The Ministry of Education attempts to provide a definition referring to inclusive education, in its broad concept, as meaning the accommodation of all children irrespective of their physical, mental, social or linguistic condition, in addition to talented children and children in remote areas. It officially endorses the UNESCO definition of inclusive education. According to answers by the Omani delegation to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with disabilities in 2018, ‘The Education Council had issued a document for the drawing up of educational policies. Inclusive education was understood as full or partial integration of students in regular schools and school activities. The integration began in 2005-2006.’
Special education needs
The Ministry of Education provides several services for students with special education needs, including deaf learners, those with low IQ or intellectual disability, blind learners, those with learning disabilities/difficulties or speaking and language disorders, and talented students.
Special education programmes are mainly provided in specialized schools based on the type of disability. However, the Sultanate of Oman is seeking to integrate persons with disabilities into mainstream schools. A policy encourages integration by establishing special classes in regular schools and providing support teachers in regular classes.
Among the services the Ministry of Education provides for students with special education needs, there are several schools specialized to accept students with specific needs as well as a learning disabilities/difficulties processing programme at schools. Different programmes aim for the integration of students with special needs in schools; according to the Ministry of Education’s 2017/18 statistics, 56% of public schools in Oman have implemented an education programme for people with disabilities in an integrated manner within ordinary classrooms. Students with hearing and intellectual disability are integrated in government schools and follow a pronunciation and communication programme. There is also a programme for talented students in the governorate of Muscat.
Special schools and classes
Out of 1,163 public schools, 3 specialized schools provide education services to students with disabilities. The special education schools, located in the governorate of Muscat, are the School of Intellectual Education (for students with mental disabilities), Al-Amal School for the Deaf (for students with hearing disabilities), and Omar bin Al-Khattab School for the Blind (for students with visual impairment), according to the 2019/20 Educational Statistics Yearbook.
The number of enrolled students in such schools has declined due to the increasing awareness of parents as they seek to integrate their children in basic education schools.
Mainstream schools and classes
The Ministry of Education began implementing an integration programme in three schools for students with learning disabilities in 2000/01.
To support the learning and integration of students with disabilities and special needs with their peers, the ministry has implemented a number of specialized programmes which vary in terms of education services and target groups. These include the programme for integrating students with disabilities into regular schools; the learning difficulties programme; a programme for treatment of spelling and speech; and an inclusion programme (partial and total) for students with autism. In total, 221 schools provide inclusive education for students with special needs, while 619 schools include programmes for students with learning difficulties. Since 2005/06, the programme to integrate students with disability in ordinary schools has included other types of disabilities.
Literacy and adult education centres and classes
Centres and classes have been designated to provide literacy and adult education for students with disabilities, with the total number of students enrolled in these programmes reaching 114 male and female students for the 2019/20 academic year. Students in the continuous education system (literacy and adult education) benefit from the education services provided by the Ministry of Education and ‘Al Wafa’ social centres, which are affiliated with the Ministry of Social Development to educate people with various types of disabilities, including intellectual and physical disabilities.
A number of centres have been established to rehabilitate students with disabilities, including Al-Wafa centres for the rehabilitation of disabled children (27 centres in 2018), which are distributed over the various governorates of the Sultanate and accept people with all types of disabilities; the Vocational Assessment and Rehabilitation Center, which provides vocational training for people with intellectual disabilities; Al Aman Rehabilitation Center, which includes 3 units (Al Wafa Unit, Al Aman Unit and the Diagnostic Unit); 32 private rehabilitation institutions; and 11 non-government rehabilitation centres affiliated with the Handicapped Children Care Association.
Oman acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1997 but has not notified the Convention Against Discrimination in Education. Article 13 of the 2011 Constitution states that ‘Education is a cornerstone for the progress of the Society which the State fosters and endeavors to disseminate and make accessible to all.’ It also asserts that the State shall provide public education, work to combat illiteracy, and encourage the establishment of private schools and institutes under its supervision in accordance with the provisions of the law. Similarly, Article 2(b) of the 2014 Child Law stipulates the right of children not to be discriminated against based on colour, sex, origin, language, religion, social status or any other reason. Article 36 of the same law stipulates that children have the right to free education at the basic education level and beyond. Education is compulsory up until the end of basic education.
According to the Ministry of Education’s website ‘Other Developmental Projects’, the ministry is currently working on a number of developmental initiatives aimed at improving education policies, including:
- The School Education Law
- The National Framework for Education, including a document on teachers’ professional standards
- Data management and performance indicators development
- A project to develop and improve the ministry’s online services through the development of an education portal web platform and the introduction of many online services to serve the ministry’s directorates.
In addition to the Law on the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled, promulgated by Royal Decree No. 63 of 2008, many laws and regulations have been issued to regulate the work of the Ministry of Social Development in providing special care services to people with disabilities through various programmes and activities to empower students and instil self-reliance. This is accomplished by providing the appropriate environment for integration and the necessary programmes and services to help these students adapt and achieve their aspirations like other members of society. Care and rehabilitation of people with disabilities in the Sultanate are carried out through many institutions in accordance with a number of regulations and legislations. Among the most important of these regulations, according to the Education Council in 2019, are the following:
- The international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by Royal Decree No. 121/2008
- The bylaw for establishing handicapped rehabilitation centres, issued by Ministerial Resolution No. 124/2008
- The bylaw for organizing the issuance of a disabled person’s card, issued by Ministerial Resolution No. 94/2008
- The National Committee for the Care of the Disabled, issued by Ministerial Resolution No. 1/2009.
The National Committee for the Care of the Disabled is headed by the minister of social development, with members including undersecretaries from relevant ministries, a representative of the private sector, a representative of the handicapped rehabilitation centres and a representative of the handicapped. The committee carries out its functions as stipulated in Article 14 of the Disabled Welfare and Rehabilitation Act. It includes eight specialized sub-committees, including committees for education; qualification, training and employment; transport and communications; health services; environment; sports; and media.
Finally, two recommendations regarding the education of persons with disabilities were issued in the National Education Strategy 2040, one related to school education (Recommendation No. 9) and the second to higher education (Recommendation No. 13).
Oman ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol in 2009. In addition, Article 5 of the 2008 Law on the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled highlights that ‘the disabled are to enjoy the pre-emptive/preventative measures and the medical care offered by the state to allow them mobility, transportation, education and training’. This act introduced many changes to the education of children with special needs. In particular, its Article 24 set that ‘educational opportunities should be offered equally to pupils with disabilities within an inclusive education system’. Among the principles embedded in the law are:
- The right of persons with disabilities to be integrated into the general life of the society
- The right to education and higher education commensurate with their abilities
- The right of persons with disabilities to employment commensurate with their capabilities and qualifications, and their right to sports and recreation;
- The right of persons with disabilities to obtain such aids, equipment and materials that assist them in education, training, movement and transportation
- The right of those who have multiple and severe disabilities to education, training and rehabilitation
- The right of needy parents with disabled dependents to relief, welfare and support services.
Furthermore, Articles 51, 52 and 53 of the 2014 Child Law outlines several measures related to children with disabilities. Article 51 stipulates that a child with disabilities has all the rights that this law outlines with no discrimination based on the child’s disability.
Articles 11 and 12 of the Ministerial Decree No. 234 of 2017 to regulate student affairs in public schools highlight that students with disabilities – especially visual impairment and other physical disabilities – can only be accepted for registration in schools that are fully equipped for them. In this regard, the Ministry of Education developed its Inclusion Mandate in 2002.
The ministry has undertaken many initiatives and programmes to support and integrate this group, including a learning disabilities programme initiated in 2002 in key schools; placing children with intellectual disabilities in separate classed within ordinary schools; the ‘National Scheme for Children with Autism’, initiated in 2015 by the government in partnership with UNICEF ‘to respond to societal calls regarding the development of a national strategy for the education and care of children with autism in Oman given the increase of prevalence rates of children with ASD in Oman’; the Pronunciation and Speech Programme, which was implemented in 2004/05 and in which 647 students with language and speech disorders were enrolled in 2019/20; and the Literacy Project for People with Disabilities (2019/20), created for learners in literacy classes, in cooperation with Al Wafa centres.
Oman acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2006. In the area of eliminating the gap between genders in basic and post-basic education, the Omani government, in general, has enacted legislations which guarantee full rights for both genders to obtain equal and free education in any place within Oman. To this end, the government has encouraged families to enrol their children and provided all services related to education, such as transportation and sometimes residence for students from distant areas, such as rough, mountainous areas that are difficult to reach. Furthermore, assistants were appointed to accompany girls with disabilities on buses transporting them to school.
An indicator on equal opportunities in education for males and females demonstrates stability over 2015/16 and 2016/17 at 0.99 – i.e. 99 males versus 100 females, with a slight advantage for males. The same applies to schools (government, private and international), where the index stabilized during the same period at 0.96, indicating more presence for males in comparison to females in schools (private and international).
Ethnic minorities and indigenous students
Oman voted in favour of adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. Article 13 of the Constitution states that the right to education is not limited to Omanis only but extends to all residents of Oman, with education services provided free of charge to the children of expatriates alongside Omani students. The Ministry of Education also granted the foreign communities in Oman the right to establish their own schools.
The primary language of instruction in public schools is Arabic, and English is taught as a second language starting from grade 1. There are also private monolingual schools and private bilingual schools (the language of instruction is Arabic or English according to the subject).
Rural and remote areas
The Educated Village Programme, conducted by the Directorate General of Education in the education governorate, in cooperation with the Wali where the village is located, determines geographically restricted villages with a high level of illiteracy and conducts comprehensive surveys of the village’s characteristics. The programme aims to achieve the following objectives:
- Speed up eradication of illiteracy in Oman
- Promote a spirit of cooperation and collective participation through voluntary work
- Focus on women and increase their efficiency and participation within the community
- Eradicate alphabetical and cultural illiteracy in the targeted villages
- Raise the level of social, economic and environmental awareness of residents in the targeted villages.
The number of villages educated under this programme increased from 16 in 2009/10 to 27 in 2012/13 across all the governorates of Oman. The Ministry of Education is likewise establishing schools in rural areas and publicly announces enrolment periods in schools with the aim of accelerating the eradication of illiteracy. The ministry has also implemented a preparation class project in public first cycle (grades 1 to 4) schools in remote areas and appointed teachers with accredited academic qualifications.
Poverty and other vulnerabilities
Education in the Sultanate of Oman is available to all age groups, all education levels and people with disabilities of all kinds without discrimination and is provided by the government free of charge.
There has been a significant expansion in the provision of preschool education and special education programmes under the supervision of the Ministry of Education, although it is provided by the private sector, in addition to some government agencies such as the Royal Oman Police, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Social Development. Since 2008, all schools supervised by other government institutions have come under the administrative and technical supervision of the Ministry of Education. Kindergartens have spread to all governorates of the Sultanate. Kindergarten classes have not been limited to designated schools, but have also been included in other schools covering higher classes, with care to provide the security and safety needed for children at this stage, such as establishing separate playing yards, halls and designated places away from the rest of students. The gross enrolment rate in preschool education increased in the academic year 2018/19, reaching 51.8%, from 50.2% the previous year.
The ministry has sought to provide free programmes for children in areas not covered by private preschool education programmes through the preparation classes project since the 2004/05 academic year, according to the Education Council. To support the continuous implementation of this programme, the ministry has provided classrooms and allocated a financial reward to each person volunteering to teach a preparation class in all schools implementing the project, according to a 2019 report by the ministry and UNESCO on inclusive education in the Sultanate of Oman. According to the ministry’s statistics for the 2018/19 academic year, the number of schools that include preparation classes reached 89, with 2,356 children and 102 classes.
Adult education (literacy and adult education)
The ministry has implemented a series of formal and informal literacy programmes aimed at eradicating illiteracy, especially in rural and remote areas, which have included all governorates and allowed both Omanis and non-Omanis to join. According to the Education Council, in early stages the ministry implemented a two-year programme to teach reading, writing and basic skills at the fourth grade level, providing adult learners with a special curriculum that includes Arabic language, Islamic education, mathematics, English language and general culture (including Social Sciences, Science and some subjects dealing with child care and nutrition). Since the 2005/06 academic year, the programme has been extended to three years, after which the learner is awarded a ‘Freedom from Illiteracy’ certificate, equivalent to passing the sixth grade of basic education. Graduates can then join the seventh grade in adult education centres or through home learning. Most of the illiterate people come from hard-to-reach rural and remote areas.
The ministry has adopted various formal and informal programmes by making use of international experiences in this field (according to the Ministry of Education and World Bank in 2012), some of which are listed below.
The adoption of this societal approach to eradicate illiteracy came through the establishment of literate villages. The project began in 2004 with the aim of eliminating illiteracy and meeting the needs of the population in remote areas. The project initially included one village, and within a short period of time, the number of enrolled students in the village reached 250. Students receive lessons in reading, writing, basic mathematics and life skills. In addition to addressing illiteracy, the project aims to raise awareness among the enrolled about social issues, such as the environment, nutrition and childcare, through courses and lectures provided by government institutions such as the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Social Development and the Royal Oman Police. By the 2012/13 academic year, the project had expanded to include 27 villages in 11 governorates, and the number of educated villages during the 2017/18 academic year reached 30, according to the Ministry of Education.
This project aims to create mutual partnerships between schools and the local community whereby the school’s facilities are used to provide education, learning and social services and activities, including adult education classes in the evening and during vacations. The project was launched as an experiment in the 2003/04 academic year and was generalized to all governorates in the 2006/07 academic year, according to a 2012 report by the Ministry of Education and the World Bank. The ministry reports that there were 87 cooperating schools in 2017/18.
Literacy project in the marine islands and villages
This project aims to eradicate the illiteracy of Omani individuals in the Helaniyat Islands in the Dhofar Governorate, Masirah Island in the South Sharqiyah Governorate, and the marine villages of Lima and Kumzar in Musandam Governorate. The programme launched in the 2017/18 academic year.
To enable large numbers of Omani youth to be academically qualified so they contribute to the country’s development, the government, represented by the Ministry of Education, began implementing the adult education system in the Sultanate in the 1974/75 academic year. The system aims to provide education opportunities for all based on the principle of equal opportunities. Adult education is considered parallel to regular education and includes grades 7 to 12. Students overcoming illiteracy, those who have passed the entrance examination in grade 7, or those who have completed grade 6 in formal education and then drop out of regular education for various reasons may be enrolled. To enrol in adult education, learners must be over the legal age for formal education. According to the 2019 report on inclusive education by the ministry and UNESCO, study in adult education centres takes two forms: regular study, whereby attendance and study are required in adult education centres, and home study, where attendance is not required in school but learners are provided with textbooks for a small fee in order to learn at home.
A 2015 study highlights that:
‘Responsibility for special education is shared between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social Development, with some other responsibility (for assessment) vested in the Ministry of Health. Administrative decisions related to Special Education are issued by the Directorate-General of Special Education and Continuous Learning in the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for both special schools and special education programmes in the Sultanate. Within the Ministry of Social Development there is a department overseeing associations and community clubs which have a wide range of responsibilities for the provision of education, staff development and programme development, as well as supervision over all centers and societies’.
The Ministry of Social Development was established in 1972 with responsibilities in the provision of education, vocational, rehabilitation, care and accommodation services for persons with disabilities via institutions, centres and associations under the immediate supervision of the ministry.
A national coordination team was established to play a pivotal role in guiding schools and governorates in managing and executing the mainstreaming of child-friendly education across Oman. A comprehensive user manual for mainstreaming child-friendly education in school improvement plans was finalized and validated under the leadership of the national team. This was to be followed by capacity building for school teachers, principals, supervisors and administrators, as well as relevant committees at governorate and central ministry levels.
In addition, Article 13 of the 2008 Law on the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled stipulates the creation of a “National Committee to Care for the Disabled” headed by the minister of social development and including other relevant government agencies, the private sector and rehabilitation centres. Article 14 highlights that among the roles of the national committee is studying and assessing the status quo to create a national plan for the care and rehabilitation of the disabled, as well as helping employ people with disabilities and create public awareness.
In parallel, in 2018, UNICEF Oman worked on the development of a unified national disability classification which was endorsed by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Development. An assessment of their disability classification and identification system was completed, and validation of a proposed harmonized assessment approach across the three sectors was received. The approach incorporates a multi-step process that includes:
- Medical assessment to be undertaken by the Ministry of Health in line with the International Classification of Diseases
- Functional assessment to be undertaken by the Ministry of Social Development social workers, in line with the International Classification of Functioning
- Disability assessment to be undertaken by rehabilitation specialists within relevant sectors to determine the services to ensure inclusion.
The holistic and unified approach to classification is entended to ensure children with disabilities are accurately captured and included within specialized care and education services. The work on a unified disability classification and the establishment of an interlinked national registry sets out to support the government in strengthening evidence and analysis about the situation of children with disabilities. This will ensure routine data collection on the numbers of children with disabilities, as well as the coverage and quality of specialized care and education services.
In addition, in its 2012–16 country programme, UNICEF Oman worked with the ministries of education, health and social development on various activities. According to UNICEF, ‘These included a multi-phase capacity-building effort with social workers on the ‘Portage Programme’ to support families of children with disabilities, a review of the national disability law to ensure alignment with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and technical assistance to MOH [Ministry of Health] in developing data tools.’
Quality management systems and standards have also been implemented for all departments within the ministry.
The model of public school buildings and their technical specifications is developed on equal footing all over the Sultanate. That said, there is a need to develop the facilities provided to students with special needs and to determine facilities related to means of transportation to and from schools for students with disabilities. There is also a need to develop the measures related to providing healthy nutrition, security and safety procedures in schools as well as to students’ means of transportation.
The facilities in some schools implementing the inclusive education programme have also been improved, and there has been coordination with specialists from the Ministry of Health to conduct periodic comprehensive checks for students and provide appropriate healthy meals for students. The Ministry of Health has also developed a nutrition programme with a system to track children’s nutrition, health and treatment history, and a full-time nurse is available for each school to connect the school with the health centre.
A number of education activity programmes and competitions are provided to allow students to practice their hobbies and satisfy their psychological and intellectual needs while providing them with opportunities to communicate with each other and with the school and local community, participate in the community, and acquire positive behaviour patterns outside the classroom. Students also gain experiences and skills related to the principles of elections, shura and democracy through mini-elections that form a class board of directors or student council.
Teaching and learning practices
Following an evaluation of the child-friendly schools pilot and a request from the Ministry of Education, UNICEF Oman supported a shift away from the project approach towards mainstreaming child-friendly education principles into the national education system and translation of lessons learned into policy guidelines. In 2018, the governance structure for child-friendly education in Oman was finalized and endorsed, ensuring that the system is robustly institutionalized within the ministry. This achievement built on the completion of guidelines and protocols for implementation of the child-friendly education model at the national, governorate and school levels.
The child-friendly education strategy proposes six principles as thematic organizers for schools: inclusion; democratic participation; child-centeredness; protection; and two cross-cutting principles on equity and resilience and sustainability. Once these principles are taken to scale, child-friendly education will result in rights-based, quality education with better teaching–learning outcomes for children and youth, building the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values required in the modern labour market. Child-friendly education will also ensure that all learners can realize their full potential in a safe and protected environment and that all children and youth participate and benefit equitably.
The Ministry of Education continuously aims to improve illiteracy programme curricula. The content of such curricula must be reviewed to address new developments in the education field and to ensure the content is suitable for learners’ needs. This has entailed the revision of several illiteracy curricula. In addition, Ministerial Resolution No. 40 of 2016 for mental disability and No. 1 of 2016 for hearing impairment were issued to adapt the relevant curricula.
Article 14(j) of the 2008 Law on the Care and Rehabilitation of the Disabled highlights the training of those working in the sector of care for the disabled. In this regard, there are a total of 323 trained teachers (out of which 82% are female) working on special needs across the Sultanate’s various schools.
In support of the inclusion agenda, UNICEF Oman developed an Inclusive Education Teacher Training Guide for teachers in cycle 1 (grades 1 to 4) to strengthen the capacity of teachers to incorporate inclusive approaches for children with disabilities into their teaching methodology and classroom management. This effort also intends to enhance learning outcomes in general as teaching methods become more responsive to diverse learning needs. The training is being institutionalized into the professional training programme for in-service and new teachers within the Ministry of Education’s specialized teacher training centre. The training guide builds on the wealth of resources on inclusive education developed by UNICEF and UNESCO, as well as the MENA Life Skills and Citizenship Education Initiative and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and is in line with work conducted on child-friendly education. In 2018, work was to continue to develop similar tools for cycle 2 (grades 5 to 10); the programme aimed to reach 50% of teachers within 4 years.
Teacher training in sign language was under way within the Department of Special Education Programmes.
A social worker in most schools is responsible for providing social counselling to students and providing support to students who suffer from behavioural and academic problems. In addition, a psychology specialist in some schools provides psychological counselling services and aims to help reduce psychological disorders for students with such problems. A resident school health nurse is also provided in some schools to offer health and education support to students and to follow up on school health and environmental sanitation services.
Furthermore, the ministry aimed to develop these abilities among teachers. It set out to dispatch 60 career guidance specialists from various regions to universities on an annual basis to obtain the Career Guidance diploma, with full financing from the Ministry of Education, and to dispatch 10 learning difficulties supervisors and teachers to Sultan Qaboos University on an annual basis to obtain the Learning Difficulties masters degree, also with full financing from the Ministry of Education.
In terms of reporting, Oman submitted an Annual Report for Education in 2015. To assess child-friendly education implementation at the school level, a benchmark and monitoring framework was also developed to facilitate monitoring of child-friendly education indicators as well as SDG 4 indicators. This would support monitoring and measuring of the performance of learners, teachers, schools and governorates following the child-friendly education mainstreaming process. The framework is to be embedded within the national education management information system (EduPortal), a system for assessing the performance of schools and teachers that collects data for monitoring progress and measuring results.