Sunday, December 8, 2013

Omani students prepare to study abroad at an early age

By: Brianna DiPilato
Produced & edited by: Katie Foglia
Map of Oman. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
As the country continues to modernize, it is becoming increasingly important for Omani students to be fluent in the English language. “Most majors in higher education, as well as most of the work places in Oman, use English as their main language,” said 27-year-old Mahmood Alhinai. Alhinai is an English lecturer at Nizwa College of Technology in Nizwa, Oman. Before his role as a lecturer, Alhinai worked as a high school English teacher for three years. As a high school teacher, Alhinai taught many students that are now studying in the United States.
When Alhinai was in grade school he didn’t learn the English language until fourth grade, but now with the new nation-wide education system in place, students begin learning the language in first grade. Omani teachers are required to teach their students English in an effort to prepare them for a possible higher-education career abroad in an English-speaking country.

Government management of Omani education system 

“The education system in Oman is managed by the Ministry of Education and it is mandatory and free for all Omanis,” said Alhinai. Much of the government funding is put towards improving the country’s overall education system. “The younger generation are regarded as a particular priority, not only because they are the largest component of the Omani community in terms of their numbers, but also because they have the greatest impact on the country’s life today.” That quote can be found on the nation’s government website.
Students are encouraged to take their studies across the globe after they have completed high school. The government gives out nearly 1,500 scholarships each year to students looking to further their education abroad. Alhanai says the number of available scholarships has increased greatly during the past five years.
Younis Al-Rahbi is among the many Omani students that received a scholarship to study abroad. He is majoring in chemical engineering at Ohio University. “It felt great having the chance to come here [the United States],” said the 20-year-old native of Muscat, Oman.
Al-Rahbi says that from travel expenses to living costs, the scholarship the students receive pays for nearly everything. But, the money doesn’t come easy; students must keep good grades throughout high school and score well on tests before they can apply for the noteworthy scholarship.
Students who have been lucky enough to receive the scholarship attend an orientation. There, they hear representatives from universities around the world talk about their school and the programs they offer. From there, the students apply to the schools of their choosing. “Most students choose to go to school in the United Kingdom or the United States,” said Al-Rahbi. He says this could be because of the English language, and the Omani government has good ties with both of the countries governments.

Studying abroad is a dream for many 

For some, studying abroad has been a dream for many years. “I have been planning to study abroad since I was a child,” said Sarah Al-Harrasi. Al-Harrasi’s dream came true when she found out that she was given the scholarship money. She is planning to study in Ohio for four years and maybe even complete her masters and Ph.D. in the United States as well.
Although some students from the United States may choose to complete their college years abroad, it is not as common here as it is in Oman. For students in Oman, after high school going abroad is the ‘normal’ thing to do, and students do so for many different reasons. “Many people think that universities abroad have a better name, education-wise,” said Al-Harrasi. “It helps students improve their English language.”
Al-Rahbi chose to study abroad because he said the closest university to his home in Muscat, was 15 hours away. For him, it was pointless to be away from his family in his own country, he said he would rather be away from his family abroad since it is more rewarding.
Recent high school graduate, Shaikha Alwahaibi is also planning to study abroad in January. She will be attending West Virginia University, “I planned to study abroad because you cannot find my major here in Oman, genetics.”
As more scholarships are given out, more women are given the opportunity to travel away from their families and study abroad alongside men. “Many Omani women study abroad, it is normal for many families. But, of course, some people prefer to stay close to their families in Oman and study there,” said Al-Harrasi.

Increased education opportunities for Omani women

The Omani government website says Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has given special attention to the education of Omani women. As the country continues to modernize, more women are breaking out of their traditional roles. “Before, men were much more able to study abroad but now it is equal between men and women,” said 18-year-old Fatma.

Women in a market in Sinaw, Oman. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
“Women should fight for their dreams, especially if they want to get a scholarship.” Fatma has recently received a scholarship and plans to study political science somewhere in the United States.

With the increase in government funding, studying abroad in Oman has become more common for both men and women alike. For the students studying abroad, it is an experience they will not soon forget. For the teachers who help them get there, it is a chance to prepare the younger generation for what is to come. 

“I always encourage my students to depend on themselves and to read about all of the things they encounter in life,” said Alhinai.

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