Oman - Society

Oman - Society

The majority of Omanis are Ibadi Muslims, followers of Abd Allah ibn Ibad. Approximately 25 percent are Sunni Muslims and live primarily in Sur and the surrounding area and in Dhofar. They form the largest nonIbadi minority. The Shia minority live along the Al Batinah coast in the Muscat-Matrah region. This minority includes the Khojas, the Baharina of Iraqi or Iranian descent, and the Ajam, of vague origin but generally considered to originate in Iran.

Ibadism is an outgrowth of the Kharijite movement, a variant form of Islam practiced by descendants of a sect that seceded from the principal Muslim body after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632. Kharijites reject primogeniture succession of the Quraysh, the tribe of Muhammad, and assert that leadership of Islam, the caliphate, should be designated by an imam elected by the community from candidates who possess spiritual and personal qualities. Ibadi leadership is vested in an imam, who is regarded as the sole legitimate leader and combines religious and political authority. The imam is elected by a council of prominent laymen or shaykhs. Adherence to Ibadism accounts in part for Oman's historical isolation. Considered a heretical form of Islam by the majority Sunni Muslims, Ibadis were not inclined to integrate with their neighbors.

Education

As in other sectors of Omani society, the education system was radically altered after the accession of Sultan Qabus ibn Said. Prior to 1970, there were only three primary schools in the sultanate--in Muscat, Matrah, and Salalah. These were reserved for approximately 900 boys personally selected by the sultan from among many applicants. Additionally, in Muscat there was a religious institute with an enrollment of fifty boys, three private schools for Hyderabadis (Indians), and one United States missionary school serving fifty foreign girls. Sultan Qabus ibn Said initiated a shift in the government's policies and priorities from neglect to expansion of the school system, increasing the public's access to general education.

The education system is guided by the policy-making body of the Council for Education chaired by the sultan and operated by the Ministry of Education and Youth. General education is divided into three levels: primary (grades 1-6); lower secondary (grades 7-9); and upper secondary (grades 10-12). Teacher-training colleges provide training programs for primary and lower secondary school teachers.

Education accounted for a modest 11.2 percent of the government's current expenditures in 1990, up from only 2.4 percent in 1975 but still considerably less than the 28 percent planned and less than the proportion recorded by other countries in the process of expanding their school systems. By the 1989-90 academic year, the percentage of students enrolled in primary schools was almost 100 percent in the respective age-group, compared with 53 percent in 1977-78. The percentage of girls attending primary schools also rose rapidly during this period, from 37 percent in 1977-78 to 97 percent in 1989-90. The student-teacher ratio at the primary level was twenty-seven to one in 1988-89. Secondary school enrollment lagged behind primary school attendance and rose from 8 percent of secondary-school-age youth in 1977-78 to 48 percent in 1989- 90. In 1986 Sultan Qabus University opened at Al Khawd, west of Muscat, with faculties of agriculture, education, engineering, Islamic studies, medicine, and science. Faculties for commerce, economics and the arts are planned.

Rapid expansion and enrollment have exceeded the capacity of the ministry to plan and administer the system. This has produced problems in planning, budgeting, curriculum development, and teacher training. Often, inappropriate sites for facilities are selected, and programs are of poor quality or unavailable. Lower secondary education remains underdeveloped, contributing to the low enrollment rates in upper secondary school, particularly for females.

The government emphasizes teacher training for Omanis, in order to create an indigenous teaching force. The dependency on foreign staff, and hence the high turnover rate and lack of continuity, further compromises the quality of education. In the 1980-81 academic year, 618 of a total 5,663, or 11 percent of the teaching staff, were Omanis. By the 1985-86 academic year, the number had increased to 18 percent. The majority of ministry employees (55 percent in 1990) are non-Omanis, of whom more than 70 percent are Egyptians; the balance consists of Jordanians, Pakistanis, Sudanese, Indians, Filipinos, and others. As of 1990, there were six teacher-training colleges providing a two-year program and enrolling a total of about 700 students. Secondary school teachers receive training at the Faculty of Education at Sultan Qabus University.

The government's medium-term objectives are to ensure that all six-year-olds are enrolled in primary school and to expand access to primary and secondary education in rural areas. The government also seeks to expand teacher-training facilities; to increase the number of trained nationals staffing schools by increasing the number of teacher-training colleges; to improve teacher-class ratios and school-building operations; and to introduce student testing and new programs.

Health

Developments in the health and medical sector paralleled those in education. In 1970 there was one twelve-bed hospital operated by United States missionaries and nine government health centers. In 1990 there was a total of forty-seven hospitals, compared with fourteen in 1980. The number of doctors increased from 294 to 994 in the same ten-year period, and the number of nurses more than quadrupled from 857 to 3,512.

The government's health policy is directed at achieving a level of health care that approaches its goal of Health for All by the Year 2000. Included among the health priorities of the Ministry of Health are strengthening curative services, particularly in urban areas, and improving preventive services, with the emphasis on communicable diseases and immunization. The Public Health Department of the Ministry of Health is responsible for mass immunizations for smallpox and other infectious diseases. The government stresses delivering maternal and child health care at the village level to decrease the infant mortality rate, estimated in mid-1992 at forty-four per 1,000. Life expectancy in mid-1992 was sixty-four years for males and sixtyeight years for females. The government is also expanding its education program, especially with regard to maternal and child health care. In July 1987, the country held its first workshop on acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) to increase awareness of the problem in the medical community. Contraceptives are available at private hospitals and dispensaries and through commercial outlets. Abortion is illegal except when the mother's life is endangered.

Although adequate health facilities exist in urban centers, coverage in rural areas remains insufficient. As a result, the government is continuing to develop health services as an integral part of national development. The Fourth Five-Year Development Plan (1991-95) allocated RO48 million, which is equivalent to US$124.7 million, for this purpose. Ministry of Health plans include a 100-bed hospital in Al Buraymi and a 200-bed hospital at Ar Rustaq, southeast of Qurayyat, to replace the existing medical facility in Ar Rustaq and to serve as a central, referral hospital for the region. Other projects include replacing all outpatient clinics at the Royal Hospital polyclinic in the capital and building a new 200-bed hospital at Ibri and a 200-bed hospital at Tanam, in the interior north of Ibri.

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