Susan Al Shahri

‘Time to Celebrate’ Oman’s Educational Transformation

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While many of you spent the long weekend gallivanting in Dubai or just chilling on the beach, yours truly pulled an 81-hour marathon to produce the world’s most tedious post-graduate term paper.

Occasionally I ask myself why I am torturing myself with a post-graduate degree when I could easily be content with my bachelor’s degree. The answer is simple: I am part of a new generation of Omanis who have come to realise that in order to climb the professional ladder in life, our once-prized bachelor’ degrees will soon no longer be enough. The world is a tough and competitive place!

Just in the past few years Dhofar alone has witnessed hundreds of full-time employees enrolling in part-time undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes at local colleges and universities because they have come to realise (some the hard way) that in Oman the days of getting ahead in your career professionally and financially with a high school diploma are over. The new generation of English speaking college educated tech-savvy Omanis are getting all the good jobs … and the good salaries.

The minimum requirements for the simplest of jobs in Oman these days are a college diploma, some English, and good computer skills. Continuing undergraduate studies after high school is no longer an option anymore, but an expectation. Ten years ago I finished high school. A selected number of my top-performing classmates went off to college or university. The rest stayed at home, got a basic secretarial job or got married. In those days going to college was a privilege bestowed upon a lucky few. Now, things have changed drastically.

A few months ago I was speaking to a friend of mine who manages a large reputable company. He was complaining to me that he had been struggling for weeks to find a dozen high-school graduates who would be willing to work for him for decent pay. He had spread the word all over Salalah trying to find anyone interested, but apparently the number of high-school diploma holders is dwindling! Everyone he spoke to knew someone who had a diploma or bachelor’s degree. Shocking but true!

Why is it so shocking? Well, if you humour me while I spew forth a short Omani renaissance speech, I’ll tell you why. Do you realise that four decades ago there were only three schools in the whole country with an enrolment of less than a thousand male students? After His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said came to power in 1970, combating illiteracy and getting kids into school was at the top of his agenda. His leadership has been instrumental in introducing education reforms in Oman.

The combating illiteracy years are still fresh in my mind because several of my aunts and older relatives were enrolled in the programme when I was in school not too long ago. Almost every Omani knows someone who learned to read and write as an adult. Now we have an adult literacy rate of over 80 per cent and there are more than half a million kids enroled in school and tens of thousands enroled in undergraduate and post-graduate degree programmes in the country. The statistics are nothing short of remarkable.

When I pull myself out of my little post-graduate term paper woes and think about how far Oman has come in educational development since the 1970s, I am humbled. Our educational system and higher education system is still very young and can do with a lot of improvement, but those soon to be filled gaps should not blind us to how far we’ve come as a nation. Until next fortnight….

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