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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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A lot happened in 2011. People around the world were affected to a greater or lesser degree by what occurred. i was struck by an, at times, overwhelming sense that i could not do anything to affect change or to help those working for change either here in Sohar, Oman or in the streets of the cities and towns around the world where people are trying to make a difference. In the end, i decided i could, in my small way, bear witness to what was happening and work towards small positive changes that i think i can impact. i would ask that you consider joining me in my New Year’s resolution.

Every year, Jamie Mackinnon, a friend from my Cuso Nigeria days sends out a “Noel News” missive. This year he opined,

“Historical analysis seems to show that, over the millennia (beginning with the rise of the state) and more so in recent decades, violence has been declining globally, and the dignity of the human individual (as seen through the prism of human rights) has been increasing.”

As i read that i reflected on 2011 and what i had witnessed either in real life or through the words and pictures of friends, acquaintances and colleagues. i decided i had to beg to differ with Jamie. i feel that violence is increasing, partly because, at 7 billion and counting, there are more of us human beings around and partly because we are becoming inured to violence, both casual and causal. Violent action and rhetoric are, it seems to me, constantly being ratcheted up in attempts to hold off change and secure the status quo.

Here in Sohar we experienced the worst aspects of the Arab Spring when a citizen was shot and killed as he photographed the nascent movement for change. my workplace was closed for a week while our students demonstrated for change. 

In Cairo twitter friend Mona Eltahawy had her left arm and right hand broken by military security forces while they sexually assaulted her. Mona writes of her experience in detail here.

Also from Cairo came this graphic image of a woman being singled out for gross abuse by the military. She was in the streets demonstrating for an end to rule by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. If ever a picture told a thousand words this was that occasion. The full story behind the picture can be read here. What is not told is the story of the Coptic Christian who attempted to save this Muslim demonstrator from the beating she was getting. He ended up being shot in the knee for his efforts.

In North America the quotidian use of violence against peaceful, non-violent demonstrators is best summed up by this now infamous picture of one sworn to protect and serve disabusing all and sundry of his role in life. Violence has become banal and utilized indiscriminately by authorities around the world to either maintain their power or the status quo. TIME magazine’s Person Of The Year issue featured The Protester; very fitting but the cover story missed several important protest actions in the MENA region and elsewhere.

If one thing has become crystal clear it’s that money talks. The upcoming election in the USA is up for grabs to the highest bidder. Occupiers are slowly changing the focus away from the 1% who control the pocketbooks to the 99% who should be controlling the streets.

At this time and place in my life i’ve decided that i can best effect change by watching how i spend my money. Going out on the streets while i have four kids in school isn’t a good idea. i won’t be able to help them if i’m occupying the inside of a jail cell.

As my New Year’s resolution i’m revisiting and renewing several of my long-standing consumer boycotts:

Nestlé because they are still illegally promoting their infant formulas as better than mother’s milk. i’ve been boycotting Nestlé ever since i was working in Nigeria in the late ’70s and i heard of their deadly practice which actually leads to mothers in developing countries inadvertently killing their infants. Maggi is also a Nestlé subsidiary and should be avoided like the plague.

Union Carbide since 1985 because they still haven’t paid full reparations for the Bhopal disaster.

Shell Oil since 1988 when i first started buy petrol/gasoline for their ongoing lousy environmental record in the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria.

i’ve been boycotting Kraft the longest, since 1973, when i attended a Perth County Conspiracy concert. Band members railed against this food processing behemoth which consistently twists the arms of its supplier farmers in its pursuit of profit. There are better quality foods from a host of other more socially responsibly producers.

McDonalds ever since i worked there in 1974. They serve a product; they do not serve food. Nutritional value? Forget it.  Working there, behind the grill, was eye-opening and disgusting.

Just two days ago i decided to add Chik-fil-A when i discovered that they are promoting homophobia. Not that there is any chance of my ever darkening their doors as my wife Kim and i decided to become vegetarians over a year and a half ago. It was, plainly put, the right thing to do, for ourselves and the environment. Meat production utilizes far too much resources.

So while you may feel there is nothing you can do there is. Occupy your wallet, spend your money where it won’t hurt others. Support a political party or politician whose views you agree with. Late last year i finally became a registered member of a Canadian political party despite never being either able or allowed to engage in the Federal political process through the ballot box in my home and native land. i’m now a proud member of the Green Party of Canada and will do what i can, from a distance, to see that we gain more seats in Parliament.

Stephen Harpy, his policies and his politics are the greatest threat to the Canada that i knew and loved growing up in the ’50s and ’60s. So i’ll rage against him and his, in this blog, on twitter and on a ballot if i’m ever allowed to vote as a non-resident Canadian citizen.

No i’ve not changed my stance on controlled substances nor did i find myself afoul of the law here in Oman. i had a 2.3 cm long vesical calculus (stone) lodged in my bladder caused apparently by a slightly enlarged prostate. The stone was causing discomfort and haematuria (blood in urine).

So i spent five days in Sohar General Hospital recently. It was an adventure i would sooner have avoided but, apa boleh buat? (What to do?). Went in last Friday evening for pre-op observation and to ensure that i did not eat or drink anything in the half a day before the procedure.

Dr Joseph, a urologist, told me he would remove the stone and possibly remove my prostrate if need be, the decision for the latter would be taken “on the table”. Saturday morning i woke up to find breakfast waiting for me (the catering staff hadn’t been told i shouldn’t eat). i was a good lad and avoided eating.

i was wheeled into the OR at 11:25 and a spinal was administered. i noted three young trainee doctors there to observe the procedure, i figured why not? i train teachers so why not let student doctors observe me being worked on?

crushed bits of my bladder stone after removal

A green curtain was put up and Dr Joseph entered quietly and immediately got to work. He told me later that the stone was difficult to remove as it was large and the center was very hard.

While he was in there he decided to do an endoscopic resection of my prostate because he felt it was what had caused the stone in the first place. So i’ve kept most of my prostate which is good.

While resectioning my prostate the good Dr found many small stones which he also removed (the smaller bits in the above photo). Then came the insertion of the catheter. This was painless as i was still under the spinal despite already being able to move my feet at this point. The anesthesiologist had done a wonderful job of estimating how much to give me so i would feel what was going on.

After a very short while in the recovery room i was wheeled back to the male surgical ward where i spent the next few days hooked up to a drip into my bladder to help wash the wound. The removal of the catheter was a totally new experience that doesn’t bear repeating. i was rather amazed at how long it was… 30 cm of the 40.5 cm length had been inserted up my yazoo. When the nurse took it out he told me to take a deep breath, i ended up having to take two deep breaths. The coins are the same size as a quarter dollar.

So now i’m supposed to take it easy for the next several weeks, no straining, lifting or bonking allowed… apa boleh buat?

What did i learn? Well Pete Townsend’s “hope I die before I get old” dictum wears thin after fifty. i’m thinking i’m definitely no longer “young” so i guess i must be getting old or at least older. i’ve also learned that good medical care is priceless. The surgeries cost about OR630 (you do the exchange). Gary, my American colleague said it was a fraction of what it would cost back in the States. my employer provided healthcare should cover most or all of it. Alhumduillah!

i’ve also learned that there are stark differences between Omani culture and ours. Kim’s students couldn’t understand why she wasn’t at the hospital all the time this week; she told them she had to work. Omani families in their hordes descend upon the hospital when one of their members is ill, some even staying over night. Kim came once a day while i was recovering, during the posted visiting hours. It was more than enough.

An update: the soldiers were gone this morning from their posts in the guard-towers at the Sultan’s farm. And so was the Sultan. He was visiting his farm hence the soldiers i’ve learned.

An interesting point to make about this is that Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said uses his own nationals to protect him. A far cry from Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam who has hired a company of Gurkas (the fearsome Nepalese mercenaries with their razor sharp kukris) to protect him, his palace and strategic tele-communications sites around his small Sultanate on the north shore of Borneo. He either doesn’t trust his own troops or knows they couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag.

On news related to security there was a front page article in the newspaper yesterday about how the Omani government security agency managed to uncover an Emirati spy ring working in the country.  Omanis are amazed at the very mention of politics in the local newspaper let alone on page 1.  The same newspaper has been running a small article with a picture about goings on in Egypt on page 7. The growing popular uprising is being termed it a “critical time”.

Meanwhile, the UAE Govt in Abu Dhabi has disavowed any knowledge of the actions of their spies in Oman.  Good morning Mr. Phelps!

i was just contacted by a former colleague who asked why i hadn’t posted anything about the situation in the MENA region. This is my response:

Hi P,

the problem with blogging about it; state agencies can target you if you do:

https://www.eff.org/wp/surveillance-self-defense-international  

i know that in Syria and Iran the state has used blog and social media postings to target activists. So i’m trying to keep a bit of a low profile. i track my twitter feed and feel overwhelmed. 

security here is Oman is up: yesterday, for the first time ever i’ve seen, armed soldiers with fully automatic weapons in the guard towers around the Sultan’s farm that i cycle past every day… i wave and flash the peace sign, they wave back.
things are happening bizarrely quickly and won’t happen here or there in the UAE, count on it.
In Oman the Sultan is genuinely revered. In his 40 years in power, since he told his father to stay home, he’s single handedly brought Oman from a 3 primary school state to a nation which now has universal primary and secondary education. There are several public and private universities which Ss are able to attend many on full govt scholarships. About the only thing i hear Ss complain about is internet access: how expensive it is; how slow it is; and how VOIP services like Skype and Gtalk are all blocked. i’ve been trying to teach them how to use the internet to improve their writing and teaching skills and it’s been an uphill battle as getting a steady internet connection on campus is a daily struggle.
In the UAE, Emiratis make up only about 20% of the population; all the expats, from the lowly paid labourers to the fat-cat expat executives are all there for the pay check. They’re not about to rock the boat.  And virtually every Emirati family has at least one family member earning a fat government salary and perks like a free house when they marry another Emirati so they don’t have anything to gain by tipping over the canoe either.
Things i do know about what is currently happening in Egypt:
It is not Islamist in nature; the Muslim Brotherhood came to the party late and have been shouted down by crowds when they try and get people chanting their slogans. So the crap on Fox News by O’Reilly is a total paranoid appeal aimed at getting the rednecks in the Ozarks scared about the Islamic boogyman.
The looting, featured in western media reports: much of it is being carried out by “thugs” police officers dressed as civilians (who first attacked protesters) and prisoners released from prisons yesterday to sow chaos. People are defending themselves and their neighbourhoods with the help of some honest police and military.
The people that have the most to worry about by events in Egypt are the Israelis. If the protesters succeed the status quo that has kept the population of Gaza bottled up will be gone. It will be a whole new ball game.
What will happen next? As i write this it is apparent that the protesters are settling in for the duration, if need be. A general strike has been called and is happening; the Cairo Stock Exchange has been closed indefinitely. Men are taking the night shift, manning road blocks, protecting museums and neighbourhoods and in the public squares. Women have decided they will take the day shift while their men rest. Women are an integral part of this popular uprising, they want a real future for their children.
the best view of what’s happening i’ve read is by an Egyptian twitter friend:
i’ve a couple of colleagues living and working in Cairo and haven’t been able to get in touch with them since the internet was cut there. i hope and pray they are ok.
interesting that many of Egypt’s fat cats fled to Dubai yesterday. i can imagine the parking lot at the end of the runway is now crowded with their private jets.
i’ll leave you with this video:
stay well
pax et amare,
rob
On 30 January 2011 08:30, P wrote: 

Hi Rob,
i just checked your blog to see what you’ve to say about recent events in Egypt.  I was disappointed not to read a well articulated analysis.  K says you’ve been following events closely.  Hope you’re well,
P