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From Online Educa Berlin: Oman As An Oasis For Educational Progress In The Middle East?

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BERLIN  - In the Oman booth at Online Educa Berlin, reps in white cloaks and turbans demonstrate the high-tech interactive whiteboards and remote controls that some school children encounter in the Middle-Eastern country.

Meanwhile, I spoke with Mohammed Al-Ebrawi, a system supervisor in the Ministry of Education for the Sultanate of Oman. He told me about some of the big investments in technology the ministry is making to educate the roughly 500,000 students in the country of 2.8 million resident (including expats) at 1,039 schools.

The entire education system is computerized so that parents can enroll K-12 kids in schools online, choose electives and check their grades. The interactive board is a new feature they are piloting in a few schools. Every classroom has a laptop in Oman and some have laptops for every four children. That’s the extent of e-learning for now.

“We are looking at (more) e-learning,” Al-Ebrawi said. “We are doing things gradually.”

He said the telecom companies first have to expand online connectivity in the country. Interestingly, the current well-managed online administration involved heavy planning since 1994 to set up databases and systems. “In 2007, we took the office data system online,” he says. “Stakeholders can access the system anywhere and anytime.”

Oman, he says, would like to link e-learning with department of health data such as birth rates to predict when the country should build new schools. Al-Ebrawi said roughly 45,000 students graduate from high school each year in Oman and 25,000 go on to higher education. “All citizens have the right to get enough education,” he said.

He said there is no differentiation between boys and girls. “They all are equal,” he said.

A review of some other writings on Oman’s education system reveal that the company is, indeed, a model of sorts in the Middle East. Dr. Mary-Jane Deeb, head of the Near East Section at the Library of Congress, wrote the following review of Oman for Freedom House:


Women in Oman have made steady progress over the past decade. There are currently more women than men enrolled in higher education at the university level despite gender-discriminatory practices in the enrollment process. Women’s rate of participation in the labor force is on the rise, and an estimated one-third of all civil servants are women. In 2000, the sultan appointed five women to the State Council, and this number was raised to eight in 2003. In March of 2004, Sultan Qaboos appointed Oman’s first woman minister with a cabinet portfolio to head the ministry of higher education. Nevertheless, women’s participation in the political process remains low, and they hold only two of the 83 seats in Oman’s Consultative Council.


Women have made extensive gains in the field of education since the 1970s. Prior to the reign of Sultan Qaboos, girls were not able to receive an education. Equal access to education without gender discrimination is now guaranteed by law and is free of charge for all students; however, education is still not compulsory. Article 13 of the Basic Law declares, “Education is a fundamental element for the progress of society which the State fosters and endeavors to make available to all.” At the elementary school level, as many girls are enrolled as boys, and at the tertiary level, there are more women than men.

Despite early efforts in the 1970s toward the education of girls and women, only 16 percent of adult women were literate in 1984.  However, women’s literacy rate (age 15 and above) today is 65.4 percent, an impressive gain.  Women’s literacy rate still falls behind that of men, however, which is 82 percent.

Women constituted 54 percent of the students entering Sultan Qaboos University in 2002. Of Omanis studying abroad, 24 percent are women. Nevertheless, while women’s gains in education are impressive, they are restricted by a gender quota system applied in the higher education institutions that aims to enroll more men than women in certain disciplines such as medicine and engineering. The number of male and female students graduating from high school is about equal, but only a limited number of seats are allotted for women at professional and technical colleges. Every year, thousands of women are not able to continue their studies after high school due to these limitations. In 2000, the majority of women at the tertiary level were enrolled in the fields of arts, education, and humanities (83.1 percent of women versus 45 percent of men).  No women graduated from Sultan Qaboos University with a degree in engineering in 2002. Furthermore, requirements for the admission of female students in some academic fields are more rigorous than those for male students.

Women are legally entitled to pursue the career of their choice in Oman. Article 12 of the Basic Law states, “Every citizen has the right to engage in the work of his choice within the limits of the Law.” However, a woman’s profession is usually decided in consultation and negotiation with her family members, such as her father, brothers, and/or husband. Women may face social obstacles if their choices are not supported by their male family members. The government does not interfere in family disputes concerning a woman’s career choice, and women often must agree with the decisions of the patriarch of the family on these matters. Nevertheless, women’s participation in the labor force is on the rise; the 2004 UNDP Human Development report estimated that 20 percent of Omani women are economically active. 

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