Overview of Education System
The vision of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos when he ascended to the throne in 1970 was to see the Sultanate of Oman emerge from its long period of isolationism by re-entering the global arena and to use its natural and human resources to develop a modern economy. However, with only three schools with 909 students being educated by 30 teachers at that time, the country possessed virtually no educational infrastructure. Figures from UNESCO indicate that in 1970, nearly 66 percent of Oman’s adults were illiterate. Under the direction of His Majesty the Sultan, Oman began to develop its education system, and by 2014, there were 1,048 schools with 523,522 students being educated by 56,211 teachers.1
Because there was a very limited cadre of educated personnel from which to draw teachers and administrators in 1970, an extensive overseas teacher recruitment drive was carried out. Teachers were recruited from other Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, and for English language courses teachers were recruited from Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, Sudan, and countries in the Indian subcontinent.
Throughout the 1970s, more than 90 percent of teachers were expatriates. The dependency on expatriate teachers led to high turnover rates of staff and a lack of continuity, both of which were seen as having a negative impact on the quality of education in Oman. In 1975, two teacher training institutes were established, one for males and one for females, which allowed more Omani teachers to be recruited. A policy for the Omanization of the Sultanate’s economy was introduced with the Third National Development Plan (1980–1985), which committed the Ministry to replacing its expatriate teachers with Omani nationals gradually. By 1990, there were more than 4,360 Omani teachers employed by the Ministry, but this still represented less than 29 percent of the teaching force. By 2000, the number of Omani teachers had risen to nearly 17,750, representing more than 67 percent of the teaching force, and by 2010, it rose to more than 40,250, more than 89 percent. The rate of Omanization of supervisors and school administrators (school principals and their assistants) also has increased considerably, reaching 95.44 percent and 99.57 percent, respectively, in 2010, as shown in Exhibit 1.
Exhibit 1: Omanization of Ministry of Education Staff, 1980–20142
Overview of Education System
Oman’s education system historically has been highly centralized, giving the Ministry of Education the authority to make the majority of decisions regarding the country’s schools. However, at present, the Ministry of Education is attempting to implement some decentralization to the 11 regional offices of education, with most administrative functions being performed in the regions.
Beginning in 1998, the Ministry of Education began a reform project to replace the general education system emphasizing teacher-centered, passive learning and high stakes examinations with a basic education system emphasizing a student-centered, active learning pedagogy and an emphasis on formative continuous assessment. Activity-based learning is central to the new basic education system, and resources for hands-on activities are incorporated into the mathematics and science curriculum to provide for active learning classrooms. Exhibit 2 presents the structure of the basic education system.
Exhibit 2: Structure of Basic Education3
Both systems of education continue to operate in the country, although the conversion to the basic education system is now 91.8 percent complete. The popularity of the basic education pedagogy has resulted in the adoption of basic education resources and teaching techniques by general education schools.
In assessment, there has been a move away from using test items that assess rote learning and memorization in favor of test items that assess higher order thinking skills. Continuous assessment has been given greater prominence on the grounds that it will not only help to provide a more accurate picture of student attainment and needs, but will result in a better match between assessment and what is taught in the classroom, giving greater validity to assessment.
A new post-basic education system was introduced at the beginning of the 2007–2008 school year, the year that the first basic education student cohort completed the 10th grade. The curriculum is organized on a “core plus electives” model, and students are given an element of choice even in the core subject areas. A diverse range of courses relevant to the varying abilities, interests, and aspirations of students has been developed. This provides students with opportunities for specialization(e.g., in science, Information and Communications Technology, and social studies), as well as for selecting general interest courses. The curricular model emphasizes the learning of key skills, or fundamental competencies that will enable students to operate effectively in a wide range of contexts. To assist students with their subject choices, the Ministry has established a Centre for Career Guidance and serves career counselors in all schools teaching Grade 10 and above.
Oman has a national curriculum based on learning outcomes established by the Curriculum General Directorate.4 Learning outcomes for each subject are determined through a system of committees. Each committee consists of consultants, experts, curriculum officers, assessment officers, supervisors, and experienced teachers. The writing committee for each subject area prepares student and teacher resources for distribution in all schools (i.e., government schools and Arabic medium private schools) to ensure all students have access to a common set of resources.
The Ministry of Education also has the responsibility of approving the curriculum of all private schools in Oman. Schools are free to select the source of the curriculum and learning resources, but the curriculum must be submitted to the Ministry for approval, and students are required to participate in standardized testing. The number of private schools has been growing in recent years, but compared to neighboring Gulf countries, the private sector continues to play a relatively small role in Oman, which means the government continues to assume most of the cost of providing education.
Curriculum and performance standards also are being developed. These will define for schools and the public what Omani students of different ages are expected to achieve in a range of important subjects, and the progress expected of them from year to year. They also will help to establish the criteria for assessing the attainment and progress of students at each grade, and form the foundation for a framework for evaluating and managing the performance of schools and individual subject teachers.
Languages of Instruction
The official language of Oman is Arabic, and with the exception of a few private bilingual schools that use both Arabic and English, Arabic is the language of instruction. Various languages of instruction are used in international schools, which follow the educational program of their particular country (e.g., India, Sri Lanka, France, Pakistan, and the United States).