THE WAITING GAME

Oman 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: INVESTMENT IN EDUCATION

Investments are flooding into the education sector in Oman, but the final results are still to be seen.

Pledges and promises have been made regarding increased investment into education, but problems remain throughout. Private and public universities have good reputations, and are heavily supported through government subsidies. However, primary and secondary education is suffering, to the point that students are often wholly unprepared either for tertiary education or for entering the workforce. Skill levels are low and the ever-important Omanization initiative is severely hampered by the fact that employers are regularly provided with graduates not only unqualified for work, but also unaware of their lack of skills. The fact that almost 50,000 graduates are entering the workforce every year is a worrying statistic.

It is important to remember, however, that the results of investment into education are only visible after a long period of time. Educational establishments can be built, training programs implemented, and expert teachers and trainers brought in, but it takes years of nourishment from the ground up to see the results of this investment.

Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) launched in 2003 and was set up to support and nurture growing businesses throughout Oman. It is proud of its close link with Sultan Qaboos University, while also being the home of two other universities, the Middle East College of Information Technology and the Waljat Colleges of Applied Sciences. With a combination of 5,000 students at these two universities, KOM has been able to play a significant role in developing student opportunities.

The new Innovation Park Muscat (IPM) is an important initiative for Oman, not only from an educational standpoint, but also for the development of ICT, industry, and business. Its vision was to create a hub for researchers, scientists, and businesses both from Oman and abroad focusing on technologies such as desalination, renewable energy, and enhanced oil recovery. Over 3,000 jobs have been promised as a result of the new park, while the Free Zone will encourage SMEs and multinationals alike.

Both Knowledge Oasis Muscat and Innovation Park Muscat have a lot of advantages and can be lauded as major steps taken by the Omani government to ensure development in education. However, while these two locations are celebrated at length in Oman, the same cannot be said for a number of other educational establishments. Funding may be provided for Oman's primary and secondary education system, but the results are unclear to the majority of the population. A 2015 report in Times of Oman outlined the major projects being undertaken in the educational sector, from primary level all the way up to university research.

A major positive to have come out of education in recent years in Oman has been that more and more women have successfully enrolled in university and become active contributors to both public and private sector. Female enrollment in public sector jobs doubled from 2003 until 2012, while private sector jobs tripled according to the National Center for Statistics and Information. To add to this, the number of women in top management positions had increased by 50% in the period since 2008, an important reminder of the primary goal of Omanization; sustainability. Women are also playing a major part in the success of universities. At the University of Nizwa, women form up to 80% of graduates. With a number of courses offered, women are not only encouraged to participate more in Oman's economy, but also are able to take a lead in leading Oman toward having a sustainable workforce.

It cannot be denied that Omanization is a good initiative, but its implementation is hotly debated, while its vision is sometimes marred by the desire to hit necessary targets. Education is an important part of Omanization, as strong developments in the sector will allow more Omanis not only to take on senior management positions, but also lead the country to a more diversified and sustainable future. Women's successful entrance into the workforce has demonstrated that education is on the right path to a certain extent. However, with a greater focus on lower education, there is a much higher probability that Oman will be able to implement Omanization in a much more balanced and, eventually, positive manner. For those investments that have been made in the right areas, the waiting game begins to see the positive effect on Oman's youth in years to come.