NEW SCHOOL

Oman 2018 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | REVIEW: EDUCATION

Oman's education sector has made massive strides in recent years, and moving forward, government officials see improving teacher quality and increasing international exchange as keys to giving a young and growing population the tools they need for the future.

Like its neighbors on the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is working to increase educational attainment as a part of its wider goal of building a more diversified and sustainable economy. To build a broader knowledge base, the Omani government is taking actions to raise standards by forming international partnerships to bolster the relatively new university system, opening new educational institutions to increase access for rural communities, and setting new national standards to ensure that the Sultanate's students remain adequately prepared for the world. Oman's education policy decisions are imbued with a particular urgency due to its demographics; almost half of all Omani citizens are under the age of 20, and with the population expected to double within the next 30 years, the decisions the Omani government makes today will have an immense effect on the development of the Sultanate.

Oman offers free non-compulsory education to all students through the age of 18. Public schools are divided into Basic and Post-Basic cycles that offer classes through grade 12 and then a Continuing Education cycle that offers three-year literacy and adult education programs for citizens who did not complete primary education. Oman's Ministry of Education also oversees a growing private school sector that includes international, technical, and religious schools. Since the ascension of Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said in 1970, the Omani education system has made significant concrete gains as measured in enrollment, literacy, and performance on international standardized testes. Net enrollment of 98% helped the adult literacy rate reach 98.4% in 2015, and according to World Bank statistics, Oman's youth literacy rate of 99.1% is among the best in the region, with female literacy and educational attainment on par with men's. Oman has also seen the percentage of GED holders rise from 7.3% in 1993 to well over 36% as of 2010.
These statistics are even more noteworthy considering that the entire economy had only three schools in 1970, none of which admitted women. Today, more than half a million students are enrolled in more than a thousand public schools, with just under half of all enrolling women. Heavy government investment has created not just near-universal access to education but a system that has become Omani-run and operated, with more than 89% of all public school instructors Omani and 65% of these teachers women. International institutions have recognized the speed and scale of this transformation, but the Omani government has publicly acknowledged that further work needs to be done to ensure that the nation remains technologically on par with the rest of the world. After achieving universal access, the Ministry of Education has begun work on a set of curriculum standard initiatives. Two particular areas of emphasis are improving teacher quality and technological access; new curriculum models implemented in 2011 for 11th and 12th graders are designed to build new STEM competencies and increase familiarity with technology.
A similar narrative is underway in the Omani higher education system, which, like its primary and secondary counterparts, is relatively young but has seen tremendous growth over the past few decades. The Sultanate's first post-secondary institutions emerged in the 1980s and the system has since growth to 63 institutions, 35 of which are public. The set of higher education institutions includes six science facilities, seven technology colleges, and schools focused on religious, financial, and military institutions. More than 90,000 Omanis were enrolled in higher education institutions as of 2011, three times the number enrolled a decade ago but just under a third of all 18-24 year olds, well below the enrollment rate in more developed countries. Even so, private institutions have begun to fill needed roles in providing new education opportunities for students unable to enroll in the at-capacity public system.

However, the Omani government has run into problems in ensuring that institutions continue to meet stringent quality standards as the higher education system has expanded rapidly. In response to this, desire to obtain international experience and obtain a high-quality education has also led many Omanis to study abroad, with an estimated 12,000 Omanis enrolled in foreign universities. The government has encouraged this practice via grants and cultural attaches through the Ministry of Higher Education. To further bolster the domestic higher education system, the Omani government has been aggressive in pursuing collaboration agreements with international institutions to generate knowledge transfers and new research opportunities.