The education sector in Oman has made remarkable progress since 1970, particularly in expanding access to education, developing an Omani teaching force, and building an Omani education sector. Oman's success in expanding education has been impressive.
In 1970 there were only 900 students enrolled in schools, this saw an impressive rise to 600,000 in the academic year 2008-09. It has also been observed that dropout and repetition rates have considerably declined. It has also been noticed that young women in Oman have high levels of tertiary education completion, similar to levels in top performing countries like Singapore and South Korea.
In 1981 there were 5,000 teachers in Oman, of which eight per cent were Omanis, in 2009 the country had 43,000 teachers of which 89 per cent were Omanis.
Oman has moved from a small education system run by foreigners to a big education system run by Omanis. It is indeed remarkable to see such expansion in a short span of time.
These achievements have been the result of strong government commitment which is evident in its planning and strategies. The government restructured its education system in 1998-99 with the aim of improving outcomes. It increased access to education.
In 2008-2009, the gross enrolment rate (GER) was 97 per cent; 1,047 public schools served 89 per cent of the enrolled students. The survival rate (percentage of students who enter the first grade of primary education and who are expected to reach the last grade, regardless of repetition) was 64 per cent in 1998-99 and went up to 86 per cent in 2008-09. Repetition rates had also decreased considerably and dropout rates are as low as two per cent or less, with exception of grade ten, where it is five per cent for females and seven per cent for males.
Capacity of higher education has also grown rapidly with the opening of Sultan Qaboos University in 1986 and the growth of colleges of technology, colleges of applied sciences and other higher education institutions as well as private universities. Currently 54 per cent of grade 12 graduates seek higher education, out of which 92 per cent study in Oman. In 2008-09 gross enrolment rate for tertiary education in Oman reached 36 per cent.
As a result of this rapid expansion, education participation in Oman is now at levels equal to or above other countries in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The achievements are particularly notable for females. It is interesting to notice that by the year 2000, 55 per cent of Omani women, between the ages of 25 and 29, completed tertiary education – a statistic similar to Singapore or South Korea. In Omani men, however, only 17 per cent had completed tertiary education.
These achievements have been the result of strong government commitment, effective policies, and favourable resource allocation. The challenge that remains is raising the quality of learning to meet international standards. Achieving a substantial leap in quality will require a continued political commitment, careful planning, and sustained resourcing.
But the achievements in the sultanate’s education sector over the past 40 years give confidence that the country can meet these challenges. Recent endeavours to improve quality in education include the introduction of revised systems of basic education (grades one to ten) and post basic education (grades 11 and 12). These initiatives are still new and their results will not be completely apparent for several years.
A recent national and international assessment on learning achievements highlights the need for a concerned effort to improve quality. The report, Education in Oman: The Drive for Quality, is jointly prepared by the Ministry of Education and the World Bank. Dr Ahmed Mohammed al Hinai, advisor to the Minister of Education on international relations, said, “A number of consultants provided the data for the report. It focuses on initiatives regarding the quality of education and the way forward regarding implications. Its an empirical and diagnostic study”
Dr Sana Sabeel Sulaiman al Balushi, director general of National Career Guidance Center, said, “The study looks at the reality of Oman regarding international education programmes, finance, and government and where we need to head. We need to stop, reflect and evaluate, and we need to concentrate on our problems and keep improving.
“We knew that was a gap between boys and girls when it comes to education, but we were not aware that it was the largest when compared to other countries. We also need to prepare students for the job market.”