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International Literacy Day: Literacy leaning

By Hubert Vaz

On the occasion of International Literacy Day (September 8), TheWeek seeks expert opinion on its significance for Oman

International Literacy Day, which is observed worldwide on September 8, this year focuses on ‘Literacy and Multilingualism’. It is said, despite overall progress made by nations, literacy challenges, however, persist, and Oman is no exception.

Embracing linguistic diversity in education and literacy development is central to addressing these literacy challenges and to achieving the sustainable development goals of every nation. Educationists in Oman feel that higher targets need to be set in the field of education and that there is a need to move away from traditional ways of viewing literacy in the current digital age.

Following are five expert views on literacy in Oman:

Drastic changes needed in education

Dr Ahmed al Bulushi

Dean, College of Engineering, National University

The significance of this day is dri-ven from the importance of lite-racy for any nation. Hence, a nation’s progress and development is measured by the level of literacy. Traditionally, Oman celebrates this day in different ways and officials show statistics and achievements in this regard.

Despite progress in the rates statistically, personally, I believe we need to do more in order to create a reading and completely literate nation in broader terms. We need to have national level strategies and vision to reach better results on the ground in the era of knowledge economy and IT advancement.

The young generation has to be respected and the targets have to be set at higher levels. We must move from traditional ways of looking at literacy.

This, indeed, invites us to adopt new approaches and different ways to look at this topic. The advancement in technology, free access to social media and so on have influenced youngsters’ behaviour in different ways. This factor itself is sufficient to make us think differently and have new approaches as IT and related technology have brought more challenges for the policymakers.

Our main challenge, in my opinion, is that traditional methods were not able to bring social institutions together to work towards the same goal. Therefore, we don’t see a widespread reading culture. I’ve noticed this in our student population. Their reading is limited to essential texts and very few are self-motivated to read beyond these.

If we compare ourselves with any developed country, we realise that we have lots to do in order to achieve the ambitions in this regard. We definitely need a national level strategy and combined efforts to achieve it. All, the community and social organisations, have to be partners in this mission. We must understand it is not only the government’s responsibility to improve literacy in society.

My definition of literacy in the age of IT advancement and knowledge economy era goes beyond simply being able to read and write. I just can’t imagine how we would be able to continue living a simple life in a future that features IoT. So, in my view, all types of education should prepare learners for such a future.

Therefore, adult education programmes, too, have to change and adapt to the changes that globalisation has brought to us. Continuing with old programmes and teaching methods will not get us to the desired goals.

Need to revisit the education system

Dr Nabeel Zahran al Rawahi

Associate Professor, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Sultan Qaboos University

The inspiring words of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, in 1972: “The important thing is education, even under the shade of trees” carried a strong message to the Omani people regarding the vision of His Majesty about education when there were only three schools in the country.

Nowadays, the literacy percentage in Oman exceeds 93 per cent and is growing annually.

Therefore, I see September 8 as a day to celebrate, evaluate, and revisit our vision and plans in the education sector – indeed to celebrate and be grateful for the achievement of reaching this level of literacy. Meanwhile, we should analyse the education system and evaluate it in order to develop it further. In my opinion, it is not a matter of changing books only. The whole system should be revisited, especially pre-school and elementary education.

While reading and writing are the basics of education, our education system should be set for further targets.

It should target the inspiration of students to be open-minded, critical thinkers and creative.

While traditionally literacy means the ability to read and write, this definition is becoming obsolete these days while the ability to use technology is becoming an essential part of daily life and for continuous education.

The use of new technologies in education should be easier now since the Omani youth comprises a majority of the population.

Although the percentage of literacy in Oman is relatively high, I think that there is a need for adult literacy programmes.

This could be done through small community centres, mosques, sport clubs, Omani women’s associations and other NGOs. The government should supervise these efforts to assure quality and for certification purposes. Here also the use of new technologies should be implemented.

March towards knowledge

Dr Nasser al Taee

Advisor, Board of Directors, Royal Opera House Muscat

Growing up in Oman in the early seventies meant that we had no choice of where to go for education. Back then, Muscat had one school that my brothers and I went to – Al Saideyyah School. It was also the same school that my father and his brothers attended.

His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said’s assumption of power in 1970 would transform Oman and launch it into the orbit of the 20th century in record time.

In his first address as the Sultan of Oman, the emphasis on education was at the heart of Omani Renaissance: “My People, I will proceed as quickly as possible to transform your life into a prosperous one with a bright future…If we work in unity and co-operation, we will regenerate that glorious past and we will take a respectable place in the world.”

His Majesty the Sultan’s first priority was education for all and in less than ten years of our Blessed Renaissance, the number of students has swelled to 100,000 boys and girls. Again by 2006, His Majesty stressed the value of education: “You are aware of the importance we attach to the development of human resources and to creating more and better education, training and employment opportunities for our sons and daughters. This theme occurs in almost every one of the speeches we address to you and, through you, to all the people of Oman.”

Vowing to educate all even under the shades of palm trees, His Majesty acknowledged the difficulties of Oman’s geography and the monumental tasks of racing against time to modernise Oman.

Today, Oman boosts schools, training institutes, colleges, and universities. Its larger educational infrastructure is supported by cultural and artistic organisations to nourish creativity.

The Royal Opera House Muscat was established in October 2011 with the aim of serving the people of Oman as a cultural icon; a bridge for cultural dialogue between nations.

Thus, the historic role of Oman is restored: To be at the centre of exchange between east and west continues, bringing people together, and to promote peace, understanding, and cultural exchange.

In Oman, education is embedded in our daily life and decisions where it is no longer about the ability to read and write but, more importantly, how to utilise knowledge to empower our nation; to work with other nations towards peace and stability through meaningful dialogue, tolerance and understanding.

By joining the world in the celebrations of International Literacy Day, we salute the young generation of Omanis who continue to carry the torch of education despite the harsh environment in remote villages, mountains, islands and desolate deserts.

By investing in education, the people of Oman continue to inspire and contribute to the world’s advancement in all areas of science, culture, and humanity.

Stimulate creativity and imagination

Jane Jaffer Bickmore

Educationist, founder Let’s Read Campaign

Oman’s literacy rate is fairly high, boys 96 per cent and girls 86 per cent. However, being able to read does not give a clear picture. We need to encourage a love of reading especially amongst the young population here. When children enjoy reading they broaden their vocabulary, stimulate their creativity and imagination, widen their knowledge and develop empathy for others.

We need to tackle this issue in as many different ways as possible. If we give children fun reading experiences and help them improve their reading skills they will grow to love reading. We also need to ensure that children have access to good books at reasonable prices. At Let’s Read, at Oman Avenues Mall, we have a charity book shop and library with lots of literacy based events and activities. As adults are our children’s role models we need to encourage adults to read, too.

Omanis have bilingual prowess

Maggie Jeans, OBE

Director, Al Manahil International & Education Consultancy

Oman now celebrates most world days which draw attention to various vital international issues. World Literacy Day is particularly important because literacy is crucial in the modern world.

Oman’s adult literacy rate in 2015 was 93.04 per cent and is growing at an average rate of 3.44 per cent per year.  In 2003, it was only 81.36 per cent.  The global literacy rate for people over 15 and above is 76.30 per cent.

The Ministry of Education in Oman has directed huge resources  into schools to support literacy which is traditionally defined as the ability to read and write.  The wider concept is now expanding to include skills to access knowledge through technology.

Reading is key to this process.  The new Children’s Library in Qurm and the Let’s Read programme have done much to encourage young people to read. Adults, however, need functional literacy and there are adult literacy classes for older individuals who missed out on this opportunity when they were young.

In general, Oman is becoming a bilingual country with most young people becoming fluent in both Arabic and English which is vital for Oman’s future in the global and digital economy.