LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS

Oman 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Dr. Hamood Khalfan Al Harthi, Undersecretary of Education & Curriculum of the Ministry of Education, on meeting international standards, increasing the teaching staff, and implementing reforms.

HE Dr. Hamood Khalfan Al Harthi
BIOGRAPHY
HE Dr. Hamood Khalfan Al Harthi began his role as Undersecretary of Education & Curriculum in 2012. Prior to this position, he served several roles at Sultan Qaboos University, including Assistant Dean for Training and Community Service in the College of Education and Assistant Dean of Student Affairs. He is currently Vice President of the Gulf Comparative Education Society, Chairperson of the Grant Committee of the Council of Research of Oman, and committee member of the Council of Higher Education Oman. HE Dr. Harthi holds several degrees, most notably a PhD in social and comparative analysis of education from the University of Pittsburgh, US.

How has the Ministry of Education been developing a social platform for Oman through education?

In the early 1970s, education was not available in most places; there were only three schools in the entire Sultanate. The idea was to expand education and introduce formal education. The strategy of the country and the vision of His Majesty was to focus on education as a priority. It took us almost 15 years to introduce schools in most places. Until three or four years ago, education was not compulsory, but access to education rose to 97%. We then started focusing on quality by emphasizing education infrastructure and training Omani teachers. The last reviews were in 2013 and 2015, which were done by the World Bank and an expert team from New Zealand. We reformed the curriculum and worked on what we call the Standards Project, which would bring the Omani education system up to international standards. Recently, we signed an agreement with Cambridge Press, and starting in 2017 through 2020, we will stagger the implementation of Cambridge International Examination Board standards in math and science at all grade levels. In addition, we are introducing English under the same international standards, which will require an intensive training for teachers.

How is the ratio of Omani and expatriate teachers expected to evolve in the coming years?

We have started to see a 5% decline in Omani teachers; now Oman has 90% Omani teachers versus 10% expatriate. We expect a teacher shortage in the coming five years if we do not attract more teachers, especially male teachers and teachers in certain subjects such as math and science. Our priority is to attract Omani teachers, as we want stability in our teaching staff that can remain in Oman for a long period of time. We expect to keep the ratio up between 90 and 95%, but we expect many retirements by 2020 and beyond. In addition, there is a significant growth in the number of students, so we need more teachers and may require an increase in the number of expatriate teachers.

What are the ministry's main objectives for 2018?

Our main goal is to continue improving overall education and providing quality education for everybody in the country. In 2018, we are looking forward to a new curriculum, including international series of math and science. In addition, we have started the new reforms in other subjects such as Arabic, in which we are implementing a new system. We are also turning more toward ICT systems in education, and most of our labs now are equipped with smart boards and other electronic curriculums. For 2020, we are planning four focus areas to update with a modern curriculum, which will terminate the need for the infamous “foundation year" for freshmen university students. Secondly, we are working on and hope to bring in a new Education Law. The law has been drafted, and we are waiting for approval from higher authorities. The third area is to make sure that all teachers are well trained, especially those who are coming from outside Oman and who need to update their knowledge and skills. The fourth area is to decentralize and give more authority to regions to run their schools. When it comes to education support, we want to focus on nutrition and psychological development of students. We are currently working on three projects; one is to expand opportunity for sports in schools by providing more infrastructure. The second is to continue working with the Authority for Food Security to provide a system of healthy nutrition for students. Finally, we encourage more international investment in education by attracting more private international schools to come to Oman. We are discussing with the Ministry of Housing to provide land for these projects and are trying to facilitate investment in education so that people have a choice between government and private education.