“Sanuallimu awladana walaw tahta thilli shagarah” means “We will provide education for our children even in the shadow of a tree.” It has been the mantra for many Omanis over the last three decades. It was the dream of Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who in 1970 vowed to make education available to all citizens of his country.
In 30 years, the country went from having three schools educating 909 males to over a thousand schools educating hundreds of thousands of students, both male and female. This great push in education is just one of the many initiatives that has sent Oman forward into industrialization.
Despite this very dramatic change in Oman, recent numbers show a decrease in the number of students taking advantage of the Oman education system. According to the Times of Oman, “31,608 seats in government educational institutions were available for students this year. However, 4,312 seats, 14 percent of the total, remained vacant at the end of the registration process on July 26.”
Education in Oman is free and it is not mandatory, so why would so many youth forgo the opportunity to bettering themselves and their country? Dr. Richard N. Rutter and Dr. Awadh Ali Al Mamari, educators at Sohar University, offered up quite a few concerns about the Omani education system: “Currently, Oman is still having to import vital technical and academic skills from abroad, rather than being able to develop its own base of domestic expertise.”
Another problem facing Oman higher education is the lack of Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs. These are a set of values measured over time, and they are used to compare institutions with one another. With the education system expanding so rapidly and no KPIs in place, students and parents are becoming increasingly confused as to which institution will provide an appropriate learning and research experience.
The Omani government has taken notice of this alarming decrease and the reasons for it. That is why they have announced a moratorium on approvals for universities over the next three years. This necessary pause is so the Education Council can investigate the current standards of the universities.
The government has also decided to raise the bar further so that Omani students are on the same level as other countries. The budget allocations for 2014 show that the government is investing 2.6 billion rials in education. This is a little over 18 percent of the country’s total budget.
While Dr. Rutter and Dr. Ali Al Mamari were critical of the current standards of education in Oman, they did offer this silver lining: “Oman has the chance to learn from the drawbacks of established KPI regimes and to institute league tables which truly reflect the goals of the country’s education strategy.”
– Frederick Wood II