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Literacy Exchange: World Resources on Literacy

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Need for Educational Opportunities: the Expansion of the Omani Educational System 

Even after the beginnings of petrol exploitation the country remained highly isolated. In an attempt to gain autonomy from the British, Sultan Sa'id Ibn Taibur isolated and withheld public expenditures to an extend that resulted in a dramatic backwardness of the Omani society e.g. in health, education, and industry. This lead to mass emigration and, finally, to war in the Dhofar region. After 1970, under the leadership of Sultan Qaboos Ibn Sa'id Oman had to build up a complete education system virtually from scratch:

"Only six years prior to this date, modern education in the Sultanate of Oman was almost non-existent. It started with the beginning of the glorious era of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos in 1970, and since then has progressed in leaps and bounds to enable the Omani citizens regain much of the opportunities lost during the preceding years"
(The Oman National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, n.d. p. 7).

Thus, the main challenge of the 1970s Omani education system was to provide a basic supply of infrastructure and materials in a short period of time. To meet this challenge, schools were e.g. initially opened in tents or attended in double shifts. Due to the lack of development and production facilities, many early teaching materials were borrowed from other Arab countries, and educational staff employed from abroad. Accordingly, the 1975 national Five-Year Plan (1976-1980 in which educational development was put in line with strategies for agriculture, industry, national resources and health development) concentrated on the provision of infrastructure for formal schooling. 

The principles developed for the Omani education system in the late 1970s were based on the lack of overall general education and professionally skilled nationals, as well as the need to cope with traditionally strong tribalism, separatist tendencies, and ethnic minorities. Thus, early educational efforts aimed at

  • homogeneity of education in Omani society,

  • a new definition of women's role in process of modernization (formal education for women was non-existent until 1970),

  • education as a means of addressing technological challenge,

  • providing skills needed for the exploitation of natural resources, and

  • achieving national unity.

These principles should have been implemented through

  • giving all Omani society access to education,

  • developing scientific and practical skills,

  • strengthening belief and behavior according to the rules of Islam,

  • raising health care,

  • increasing respect of nature,

  • training the manpower needed for implementing the national development plans,

  • the promotion of patriotic sentiments and national identity.

The financial resources accumulated before 1970 and the continuing oil revenues had a significant impact on initiating the early educational efforts. 

In these early stages the Ministry of Education was supported by Regional Education Departments that were responsible for supervising and evaluating the educational development and advisory bodies: 

"The advisory bodies consist of the Council of Education, the Advisory Council for Islamic Education, (which are both attached to H.E. the Minister), the Educational Planning Council, the Teacher Training Council (which are attached to H.E. the Undersecretary), together with the UNESCO Experts on their advisory capacity in the areas of Curriculum, Educational Planning, Teacher Training, Non-formal Education, Technical Education and Domestic Science" (The Oman National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, n.d. p. 14).

Regarding adult and literacy education the ministry concentrated on the expansion of Literacy Centers (reportedly the number of learners did rise from 2429 to 7690 learners between 1974/74 and 1977/78) and installed evening classes in Adult Education Centers (the according enrolment figures available show 1353/2891 learners). In addition to that,

"Special centres for Home Studies have been established to help those who were deprived of education in the past or who wish to continue their education in the evening classes and sit for the transfer and General Examinations. The enrolment in these special centres was 1162 learners in 1977/78" (The Oman National Commission for Education, Culture and Science, n.d. p. 14).

Work on indigenous teaching materials was started and Arabic classes for Non-Arabic speaking citizens opened. A first series of functional literacy materials for women was initiated. At the end of the 1970s the first volume (The Family of Sheikha, Part 1) appeared, reportedly dealing with maternity and mother care. 

Literacy Activities in the 1970s/80s

Oman had decided that its educational policies should cover all parts of society on the basis of a learning together of both teachers and learners. It should as well provide opportunities for lifelong learning. The Omani strategy to achieve literacy was put in the context of this vision. In addition to that, a significant reduction of the illiteracy rate was considered to be one essential strategy for social and economic development.

Literacy was defined as the ability to read, write and do arithmetic, as well as to cope with the demands deriving from social, economical and political daily life (Ministry of Education, p.2). 

Accordingly, a joining of hands between the relevant acteurs was announced. literacy-related activities were reported from the side of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Information (Education via TV since 1980), the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, and the Omani Women Association. Regional exchange and co-operation was sought and Omani educationists sent for training e.g. to Egypt, Bahrein, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and other states.

Methods and Materials

Literacy Centers remained the main training institution for fighting illiteracy. The courses' duration was two years, each with eight months of schooling. 15-19 class sessions of 40 minutes each were held per week, with slight differences for men and women (see the timetable). Literacy Centers were partially for males or females only, while others were co-educational. Successful graduation from these programs gave the learners the equivalent of the formal schooling's primary grade 4. The tables provided show a continuous rise of women having completed some kind of literacy program by the mid-80s, before numbers stabilized at a much lower level, while recently male attendants seem to have lost all interest in literacy courses. Recently a national committee was set up to meet this development.

The subjects taught were Arabic language (seven sessions), mathematics (4-5), Islamic education (2-3), general education (2-3) and family issues (one session per week, for women only). Arabic courses are comprised of reading, writing and conversation. They are scheduled to lead to the equivalent of grade three after completion of four levels. The Ministry of Education developed the two "Key' volumes in co-operation with UNESCO. The "Key" was used for training men and women. Instructions for teaching were presented at the bottom of the pages. Seemingly, the provided exercises aimed more at reading than writing skills. 

In the first volume, a word recognition approach was chosen. No vocalization was given in the beginning. Early exercises rely mainly on linking different already known words to short sentences. Step by step, consonants are introduced in roughly alphabetical order. Later lessons present verbal sentences and use the verbs to introduce vocalization. In this stage, exercises concentrate on vocabulary and conjugation as well as the writing of complete words and the introduction of particles.

The first volume starts with introducing the textbook's main protagonists (which are only used for content presentation in the first few lessons). They are described as being adult learners themselves. Topics covered a broad range including regional culture and Omani geography, agriculture, behavior in the family (find a lesson on a family trip to the sea, health care (like in this example on visiting the hospital and Islamic religion like e.g. in one lesson on prayer. 

The second "Key" volume was very much text-based. Exercises comprised a comprehension section. The use of discussion in class could not be determined, although the sample provided below points in that direction. Again, the lessons' subjects are broad, including scientific topics (e.g. on water, rain and desalination) as well as early childcare, home economics, and health issues (like this sample on malaria shows. To give you a complete overview on the topics chosen and learning aims pursued we provide the index of vol. 2 here. 

Although gender roles were made very clear, alternatives to being a housewife and mother were shown e.g. presenting a female police officer (as in vol. 1) or a female literacy teacher engaged in discussing why women were interested in reading. In general, finding this variety of topics in a reader used by male, female and mixed classes is surprising. Unfortunately we do not have knowledge of a report on the actual experiences that were made in the classes.

Mathematics courses in Literacy Centres covered the basic arithmetical operations (find samples on addition and multiplication), geometry, fractions, and the decimal system. 

There were two volumes for general culture courses being divided in the units geography, national development, sciences/general culture (including hygiene issues, maternal health, nutrition, first aid and labor law) and history. These books were largely definition-based. The exercises demanded mainly text reproduction from the learners.

The textbook for class two on Islamic studies presented chapters on the Qur'an, religious law (dealing with prayer rules, zakat and pilgrimage), the biography of Muhammad, correct behavior according to Islam, and Islamic culture/women in Islam. This last chapter described the improved status of women since pre-Islamic days, outlined her position in society as spouses defined by religion, but also gave evidence for their rights to the acquisition of knowledge and income. 

The courses on family issues aimed at providing the attending women with abilities considered necessary to fulfill their roles as spouses, house women and mothers, such as skills needed for running a household, knowledge in health and nutrition issues, and dressmaking. The related extra textbook covered the two years of the course. Every lesson was prefaced by a summary of learning aims. Overall, the textbook was very text-based, of small printing, and presented its content in a quite authoritarian style that did not call for the women's participation or discussion. Illustrations were partially hard to recognize. The books covered early childcare, family nutrition, cooking and dressmaking. 


Most of the teachers (male and female) working in Literacy Centers had previous experiences in the literacy sections of formal primary schooling. Non-Omani teachers were employed if they had obtained the required educational qualifications in a literacy organization. The mutual teaching and learning of teachers and learners was repeatedly named as an important principle of literacy and adult education (Ministry of Education 1988, p. 34). We show an extract on methods for adult literacy education, taken from a teachers guide. The following paragraphs on specific problems of the Omani learners are taken from this sample. Two major fields are identified:


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