March 1, 1999 - Washington Report: In the late 1970s I visited English classes taught by my daughter Delinda, one of a dozen Arabic-speaking American Peace Corps volunteers in Oman

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Oman: The Peace Corps in Oman: March 1, 1999 - Washington Report: In the late 1970s I visited English classes taught by my daughter Delinda, one of a dozen Arabic-speaking American Peace Corps volunteers in Oman

By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, August 17, 2003 - 1:01 pm: Edit Post

In the late 1970s I visited English classes taught by my daughter Delinda, one of a dozen Arabic-speaking American Peace Corps volunteers in Oman

In the late 1970s I visited English classes taught by my daughter Delinda, one of a dozen Arabic-speaking American Peace Corps volunteers in Oman

ultan Qaboos University’s Ninth Graduation Ceremony Marks Oman’s Educational Transformation

by Richard H. Curtiss

March 1999, pages 64-74

Being invited to lunch in the faculty dining room at Sultan Qaboos University is pretty much all business. Most of the instructors, perhaps a third of whom are Omanis, another third Americans and Europeans, and the remainder from other Arab and South Asia countries, with a sprinkling of Far Easterners and Africans, all arrive at about the same time to form separate knots of people serving themselves at the soup kettle, the large salad bowl, the hot food section, and the desserts. Each serving station is set apart from the others to avoid gridlock since all of the faculty takes lunch at the same time.

They take their dishes back to eat in twosomes and threesomes at austere tables for four, sometimes shoving tables together to accommodate larger groups. There is no discernible separation of sexes or nationalities, with English seemingly the lingua franca but smaller groups chatting in a variety of languages—an appropriate adaptation to an institution where the medium of instruction is Arabic, but science courses are taught in English.

We are hosted by a young Omani professor who is not reluctant to enter into an intense discussion of contemporary Arab politics, the United States, and the downward course the once easy relationship between Arabs and Americans has taken. This, he says bluntly, is the result of timid Arab leaders who are afraid to speak Middle Eastern truth to American power, and weak and self-indulgent leaders in Washington who have turned their backs on both the long-term interests of Americans and of the peoples of the Middle East in their haste to enlist pro- Israeli American media support for their personal political careers.

Clearly he understands the making of U.S. Middle East policy better than do most Americans, and there’s none of the elaborate conspiracy theorizing of past Arab generations, except when he analyzes the peculiar and even symbiotic relationship between Iraqi President Saddam Hussain and a succession of American presidents. The Iraqi president needs repeated threats and blows from the United States to force his suffering and unhappy people to rally around him, the professor speculates. Similarly, he theorizes, jingoist American politicians see benefit in having a tyrannical Arab leader to attack, and serious U.S. strategists exploit the real and ever-present menace of invasion by Saddam’s forces, or of subversion instigated by the religious extremists within Iran’s present government, to justify the reintroduction of American military forces into the Gulf area. It sounds a little wild, but nearly all Middle Easterners, including those in the governments of America’s closest Arab allies, subscribe to variations on this theme and an increasing number of knowledgeable Americans agree with them.

The conversation is cut short because the professor has to attend a department faculty meeting. Before rushing off he hands us over to a young and charming U.S.-educated Omani woman who holds a Ph.D. in early childhood education from George Washington University in St. Louis and an M.A. from our alma mater, the University of Southern California. Like many American supermoms, she combines her university teaching with raising her children.

Then it’s time for the next class and the 100-plus faculty members in the room disperse as rapidly as they assembled. A blonde European woman mounts a bicycle, perhaps to ride off to a classroom far across the large but precisely laid-out campus, and we are left to wander on our own in and out of the university library, video archives and scientific laboratories, my wife taking some photos in the women’s sections and I taking photos in the university’s mirror-image men’s facilities. (Her photos were better but, as I pointed out, women make better models.)

Although a sense of permanence is imparted by the university’s long central outdoor covered walkway, consisting of a seemingly endless repetition of identical oriental arches flanked by beautifully pruned and carefully irrigated palms and other tropical trees growing out of green lawns, the cornerstone for the university was laid only 16 years ago, in November 1982, and its first classes opened in November 1986. On Nov. 10, 1998, just a few days before our visit, the university had held its ninth graduation ceremony, presenting degrees to 1,021 students, of whom 13 received post-graduate degrees.

This completion of at least 16 years of study by such a large class is noteworthy when one considers that only 18 years earlier, at the time Sultan Qaboos took over the rule from his father, there were exactly three schools, all for boys, with a total of 909 students in the entire country, which then had an estimated population of slightly fewer than one million people.

Starting from this base, Oman began opening classes in makeshift primary schools all over the country in the early 1970s, just a few years before this 1998 graduating class entered first grade. Thus began a nationwide school system that today numbers 958 state schools and 111 private schools serving a nation of 2.2 million.

I have my own memories of those early days. In the late 1970s I visited English classes taught by my daughter Delinda, one of a dozen Arabic-speaking American Peace Corps volunteers in Oman, in a school north of historic Sohar in a fishing village so remote it could be reached only by four-wheel-drive vehicles traveling up the beach at low tide, or driving part of the way along a stream bed when the tide was high. Since almost the only educated Omanis in that era were the fortunate few who had studied in schools abroad, most of her fellow teachers were young Jordanians, Egyptians, Sudanese and other Arabs who had been brought in to launch those early students, some of whom are members of this year’s university graduating class.

Already pleased with myself for having successfully negotiated a stream bed at the wheel of a three-quarter-ton truck on that trip so many years ago, I nearly burst with pride when I realized that the burasti (reed) walls of all of the classrooms were decorated with pictures, some of them quite artistic, drawn by students with crayons and water colors supplied by my daughter.

Oman has come a very, very long way since those days only a generation ago when its children had to be taught mostly by idealistic Arab and other foreign volunteers, and by educated Omanis who had returned from the nearby United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate’s former colonies in Zanzibar and on the Makram coast of present-day Iran and Pakistan to lend a much-needed hand. Now of the country’s 23,245 teachers, 13,331 (57 percent) are Omanis. At the primary level, 95 percent of teachers are Omanis. Of the country’s students, 48.6 percent are female, in an overall population that is 49.1 percent female.

Furthermore the quality of instruction in the six teacher training institutes scattered around the country is being upgraded to the standards of the Sultan Qaboos University College of Education in order to reduce the pressure on the university to enroll more education students. At present there are 6,000 students enrolled in the university, double the number for which the institution originally was planned.

In the 1997-98 school year there also were 3,174 Omani students studying at foreign universities in 17 different countries, with 660 of these in the U.K., 545 in the U.S., and 528 in Jordan.

With an educational system that constantly breaks its own records for increases in quality as well as quantity, Oman has completed a fantastic journey in the 28-year reign of Sultan Qaboos. Everyone who has had even a peripheral role in it can be proud. I know my daughter is. Therefore, needless to say, so am I.

Richard Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Washington Report

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Oman



Add a Message

This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.