Travels, Education and Observations in Oman

Written by: Alistair Wylie

The view across Nizwa. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

During 2016, I had the opportunity to visit Oman, based in Muscat, on three separate occasions to support the work of the Ministry of Education. As with other Arab nations, women generally play a secondary role to men in society. For example, during daily prayers, men and women do not mix. Women dress conservatively with hair, arms and legs covered but faces visible. That said, high fashion is often pursued in relation to footwear, watches, accessories and dress trim! Oman differs from other Arab nations though in being regarded as progressive when it comes to working lives. Many Omani women are highly educated and hold senior positions in government and industry. During the time that I visited, the appointed Minister of Education was a woman. In work situations, where a woman is the boss, men will answer to her actions. This clearly sets aside life in Oman from its Arab neighbours.

Oman, officially known as the Sultanate of Oman, is a country on the south eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. It sits at in a strategically important position at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and is bordered by Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as well as sharing marine borders with Iran and Pakistan. Muscat is the capital, and largest city, whilst the country population is approaching 5 million people and is classed as a high income economy. The late ruling Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, who died earlier this year, had ruled for 50 years and was credited for driving and leading much of the massive investment and improvements across the country. Oman is recognised a progressive state in the Middle East and predominantly peaceful. As well as oil, it relies on agriculture, tourism and fishing to support its economy.

My main task while I was in Oman was to assist colleagues in the Ministry of Education. This work was to inform their future planning and thinking around course creation and approaches to assessment and awarding within the school sector. Quite a wide remit and lots of areas to cover! On each of my visits, I worked with staff from the Ministry of Education who were responsible for managing the national school curriculum and covering the full range of subject choices. I delivered a series of seminars, workshops and Q&A sessions to meet an agreed brief and enable them to link into a clearly defined progress plan. They had approached the Scottish Qualifications Authority as there are parallels in several key areas when comparing Scotland and Oman; similar size of country and population, similar approaches to school education and assessment and a desire to learn, review and change their approaches to assessment and national awarding.

 

The Omani people themselves are extremely friendly, welcoming and reverent.  Arabic is the native language but the majority of educated people are also fluent in oral and written English. I was fortunate enough to have the assistance and support of a wonderful translator during my interactions. I was also spoiled on a daily basis with home brewed cardamom coffee (an Omani staple) and home-baked delicacies.

Sunset in Muscat. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

I was able to experience the difference in seasons whilst on my different trips. My initial trips were in the Spring months where it was hot, dry and sunny but not unbearably so. This changed when I visited again in the month of August and it was well beyond 100 degrees Fahrenheit at barely 11 o’clock in the morning! I also had the opportunity to do some exploring in and beyond Muscat. The country itself is split into several distinct regions. Muscat is in the northern area bordering the United Arab Emirates and sits on the eastern coast. There is a lot of greenery and vegetation in this area as well as mountains the further north you travel but once you head inland you are soon met with relentless desert. Moving further south, the country borders Saudi Arabia and travelling away from the coastline you are again met with desert. The same is true of most of the southern part of the country, where the border is shared with Yemen, making this the hottest part of Oman.

Top of the Fort Nizwa. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

Friend and colleague, Houd, on top of the fort in Nizwa. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

I experienced a trip to a local sook which is an amazing experience to see all the different local goods on sale and had the opportunity to interact with local people. I also visited the inland fortified town of Nizwa, some 150km from Muscat. The capital itself houses many beautiful buildings such as the new opera house. Old Muscat town is even more interesting and is where I found the most intriguing sook as well as a visit to Al Alam Palace.

Al Alam Palace. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

Muscat Opera House. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

A wadi outside Muscat. Photo credit: Alistair Wylie

The one lasting impression that any visitor has when visiting Oman, apart from the friendly people, is the cleanliness and the wonderful smells and aromas wherever you go. I was never a huge fan of oud and “heavy” perfume scents before I visited Oman but once I got to experience real Middle Eastern oud and the rich aroma of pure perfume-based scents I became hooked. Virtually anything that contains oud is now my fragrance of choice! My advice is that if you have the opportunity to pursue any kind of work that involves Oman then take the chance, and if you that means you get to visit too then it will be a trip that you won’t regret. Oman is certainly on my holiday destination list having been ticked off my professional and business list. It is, for me, the unspoiled and relatively undiscovered jewel of the Middle East.

Alistair Wylie has worked in education for the past 25 years, originally qualifying as a teacher in high schools before moving into the further and higher education sector and eventually joining the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) in 2004 as a national manager. He has held the post of Head of Qualifications at SQA since 2016 and has also had a successful career as a published education author. He is current Chair of the TAICEP Organisational Advancement Committee and is interested in all things to do with assessment, education and technology.

 

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, California, USA.  ACEI is a full-service company providing complete and integrated services in the areas of international education research, credential evaluation, and translation. ACEI’s Global Consulting Group®, offers expertise in the following specialties: Media and Branding, Global Pathways, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to interested institutions and organizations around the globe. www.acei-global.org

 

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