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This is a list of demands that Omani Public School teachers are making to improve the situation for their students and themselves. At this posting they have completed seven days of strike action, going to school but not going to class. Unconfirmed reports indicate that 70% of the nation’s Public School teachers are actively engaged in this industrial action. Students appear to be going to school in the morning at 7a.m. as usual but then being sent home by 9a.m. by school administrators. Interestingly there is a nationwide media blackout in force regarding the strike. Apparently the Minister of Information decided that the teachers’ issues should not be aired in public. Teachers do not, currently have a nation-wide union. Teachers are allowed to organize, apparently, on a school by school basis after obtaining permission from the school principal. (The editorial comments are my own).

1. Provide a gym for students in each school (Valid given the extremely hot (up to +/- 47C) weather in the early fall, late spring and early summer when school is still in session);

2. shorten the teaching day (Seriously? The teaching day is already quite short; approximately 5 contact hrs/day; Teachers do not do Extra Curricular Activities after school as all children head home by 1 p.m.)

3. Provide nursery for teachers’ children (valid; many teachers are mothers who do not have daycare options readily available to them; this would make good sense, provide more jobs for trained daycare providers and be culturally appropriate);

4. Provide good buses for students-a seat for every child in the bus (valid; some buses are bedlam with overcrowding being potentially dangerous);

5. Change the curriculum and the Ss’ assignments (No details provided that i’ve seen; this is a very major undertaking and would require the MoE and teachers’ representatives to sit down and discuss brass tacks about what measurable outcomes they actually want to see happen in the school system. Currently automatic promotion is the norm and students are pushed up even if they are not able to handle grade level material. Teachers feel at a loss dealing with incredibly weak students and those who are at grade level in the same class. Part of the problem here is that teachers are not trained/skilled/provided materials and support for delivering differentiated learning outcomes; every student is measured with the same yard-stick);

6. Raise the salaries of teachers (Interesting; teachers are already quite well paid in the Omani scheme of things and only two years ago got across the board raises as part of the after effects of the Arab Spring winds blowing through the Middle East. Justifying a new round of wage increases in so short a period of time would be difficult given the perceived very low levels of inflation in Oman. Prices of essential commodities are controlled by the Govt and rents, in many cases, have actually decreased due to oversupply in some centres.)

7. Provide raises for teachers based on performance. (Interesting; No details provided as to how performance would be measured. Standardized testing? If that were the case it could lead to tremendous amounts of teaching time lost to the administration of the tests and copious amounts of time lost to “teaching to the test” to ensure “good” results. There would also be the problem of teachers and school administrators cooking the results so that they look good. This is an unfortunately common occurrence in this part of the world.)

8. Promote teachers every 4 years. (Why? Unless there are changes in duties leading to increased workload or greater responsibilities it does not make sense to automatically promote teachers unless they have been made department head, vice-principal or principal. However it would make sense for teachers to have a salary scale that reflected increased experience and expertise acquired over time in the classroom with increments for every year (or every 4 years) of experience.)

9. Female teachers should be brought back to schools near to their homes. (This is a difficult item. First and foremost why should female teachers be given preference for being posted close to their homes? Aren’t males entitled to make the same request? Frequently novice teachers are posted great distances from their hometowns in remote areas as there are few local teachers available from those locales. This will continue to be an issue until all regions of the country become equally developed. Oman still has quite a ways to go where this is concerned as students in remote rural settings don’t necessarily see the need to go out and get an education especially one leading to a teaching job as teaching is viewed as a low status job especially amongst Omani men. The best and brightest students are not encouraged to become teachers but to get into other “real” professions. If every teacher was allowed to teach near her/his home the remote rural schools would be devoid of teachers. Currently female teachers can only use wasta or an accumulation of years spent in the boondocks to get a transfer closer to home. This makes it difficult for them to settle down and get married as they are living and working so far from their normal pool of possible partners in their community. There seems to be very little marriage outside of one’s region. Interestingly, male Omani teachers can easily get postings close to home as their is a dearth of male Omanis willing to take up the teaching mantle.)

10. Retirement for female teachers should be after 15 years. (Seriously?  Why only females? Why bother getting educated for 17 years only to work 15 years? Teachers would retire before they hit 40. Where would the money to pay for their retirement come from? Work 15 years and then get retirement benefits for 30, 40 or even 50 years? Bizarre.)

11. Teachers should teach only and (not) take substitution classes or other activities. (Unfortunately there is an overall lack of qualified teachers in the country. When a teacher falls ill and cannot fulfill her/his work obligations the principal can not pick up the phone and call a trained and qualified teacher from a pool of substitute teachers to come in and take over. Classes for absent teachers can not be left unattended as this would be a dereliction of Duty of Care (in loco parentis) responsibilities. Until such a time as there is a surplus of qualified teachers just waiting around to step in as substitute teachers the status quo will, unfortunately, have to remain. There are pools of young recently graduated teachers in some areas but, frequently, they have yet to be certified as they have not yet passed government requirements for them to be allowed in to schools. (i.e. IELTS 6.5 for ELTs). These teachers are also unwilling to travel to more remote parts of the country to get work. Omani schools do not have ECAs in the traditional sense so what ‘other activities’ are being discussed is not clear. Students need to be supervised during breaks, so unless there are parents or carers available teachers would have to do this on a rotational basis at schools.)

11. Teachers’ salaries should not be cut during holidays. (Clearly teachers salaries should be paid over 12 months of the year and not just the 10 months that they work; so adjustments would have to be made and monthly salaries lowered so teachers could get 12 months of pay rather than 10 months. This system works well in other countries.)

13. Teachers should only be required to teach 15 lessons a week. (This is a pie in the sky demand. Until there are enough teachers to go around teachers will have to cover the normal workload they have now. In many countries teachers cover double that number of lessons a week with far greater numbers of students in their classes.)

14. Provide health insurance for teachers. (Interesting; the government already provides a system of government hospitals and clinics which are free for the Omani public, all others pay cash. However these are perceived as inferior and overcrowded compared to the private clinics and hospitals which have developed to cater for the more well off and the expatriate community. Even in major centres such as Sohar, however, the government hospitals are able to provide facilities and expertise which far exceed that which the best clinics can provide.  It might be better for the country just to nationalize the health care system rather than allow the two or three tier system that currently exists.)

15. Modify the retirement salary. (Details not provided; Omani civil servants, which count teachers in their ranks, do NOT pay into retirement/pension plans. So this would be another area requiring a lot of negotiation on the part of teachers and the Ministry. If teachers want good retirement plans perhaps they should be willing to pay into them.)

(16.) another (unofficial?) demand is that all schools from cycle 1 to 3 be gender differentiated. (This would mean no boys mixing with girls in grades 1-4 as is currently the practice. There are two possible reasons for this: fundamentalist religious leaders in the educational community see this as necessary and/or the female teachers currently teaching in Cycle 1 schools find it difficult to control the boys. It is understood that Sultan Qaboos originally intended for the entire school system to be co-educational reflecting best educational practice in the modern world however he had to bend to conservative religious ideals. Teachers should be able to control their students. If they can’t they should get professional behaviour management training and support. Perhaps too, the principals also need help in making schools zones where every adult is responsible for managing the behaviour of all students in the building. There is no doubt that male Omani students have a sense of entitlement that is largely unearned. Just because they are male they may feel they don’t have to kowtow to females who are not blood relatives. This sense of entitlement is perhaps cultural in nature and might need to be modified.)

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3 Comments

  1. Some of these demands are clearly difficult to achieve in a short period of time. But there are few that that can be done. As for pay, why should a teacher only get a basic pay of OR345 after s/he studies for 4 or 5 years of her/his life in university while new recruits in the military who just graduated from high school gets OR315? I will add more comments as the strike goes.

  2. I actually did see a short – very short – article on the teachers’ strike in an Omani newspaper a few days ago. It didn’t give much detail other than that the teachers ‘demands’ hadn’t yet been met. What the demands were, though, remained a mystery, at least in that newspaper article. There are actually a lot of demands that you write about, some seemingly valid, some not. Education in Oman still has a lot of challenges to overcome; it needs a lot of growth and organization, and lots more qualified and dedicated teachers who are there for the long haul. I think it also needs a modified teaching methodology that has as a focus the teaching of study skills, and though these students are still quite young, at least the beginnings of critical thinking.

  3. Perhaps on the whole, the teachers need to feel they are appreciated and supported. Having teaching assistants would provide more job opportunities, on-site internship for uncertified teachers, and importantly support teachers who are overwhelmed with class management issues and inadequate facilities. I also agreed with Mariam that students should be taught study skills, rather than the present trend of focusing on content only.


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