Forget the latest ‘it’ bag. These days it’s what you know that counts, as Penny Fray discovers.
They say that you learn something new every day. Why just yesterday, I read that Suri, daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, is about to launch a RO1m fashion range this autumn. (She’s seven, for heaven’s sake!)
But it’s time to step away from the gossip pages and pick up some worthwhile skills by attending one of the many cool classes popping up in clubs, bistros and boutiques near you.
The once fusty world of study has finally undergone a make over. In Muscat, you can now learn how to do crafts in cafés and bake in book lounges. Yes, culture clubbing with brain ravers is now all the rage for those moving away from the empty luxury of malls and seeking to combine the cerebral with the stylish.
Just a quick browse at Borders at Qurum City Centre will reveal that books have become a little less bookish and history programmes on cable have never been hotter.
For a jaded generation of thirty and fortysomethings, learning is finally filling the slot once occupied by shopping, partying and watching reality television.
“People have come to realise that knowledge is power,” explains Tariq al Barwani from Knowledge Oman. “Through knowledge, be it a new skill or lesson, they’ll be able to get more than just the latest Chanel bag.”
In the more traditional arenas, cultural commentators and box office figures point to a greater thirst for the serious, the challenging and the contemplative. And nowhere is this high-minded hedonism more evident than Knowledge Oman, which has just been awarded a Golden Strategic Award for Culture at the Pan Arab Web Awards 2013.
This ‘people to people’ organisation provides free learning opportunities through seminars, workshops, presentations and academies. And it’s roped in some pretty impressive organisations such as Microsoft, e-Max and the government association ITA in its quest to educate the masses.
“The platform was launched back in April 2008 as a mission to solidify the vision of the country’s ruler, His Majesty the Sultan Qaboos of Oman,” says al Barwani. “The main aim is to transform Oman into a knowledge-based society.”
Seminars held by the group have been diverse, and included everything from business and leadership to culture and wellbeing.
Another cool club that has recently emerged on the knowledge scene is My Book and Me, located near Al Khwair. Conceived by HH Taghreed bint Turki Al Said, this unique reading lounge by the sea holds everything from trendy workshops to a Women’s Salon.
Since the 17th century, when they were the preserve of the aristocracy, salons have provided a platform for the exchanging of ideas. Now they’re back in vogue and allowing all kinds of fruitful ruminations to reign in the Sultanate – although over here, they’re better known as forums.
Oman’s universities, colleges, institutes and even ministries all offer programmes where people can continue with their education – helping them improve their skills and add value to their CV, all while keeping their brain active. Such is the thirst for knowledge that even the private sector has jumped on the bandwagon, offering free consumer seminars with global experts.
In February, there was a great deal of excitement when Nobel Prize-winning economist Professor Muhammad Yunus joined CNNs Riz Khan and Omani visionary the Honourable Sheikh Khalfan Al Esry, among others, for the EO Majlis at the Al Bustan Palace.
It would be easy to explain all this away as the wholesome result of tough economic times but it’s as likely to be the consequence of consumer fatigue and boredom with the never ending circle of celebrity tittle-tattle.
“People have become bored of wasting their free time on reading nonsense and just buying stuff,” says Jayne Jones, a self confessed lover of learning from MQ.
“They want to experience new things, meet like-minded people and recapture some of their youthful curiosity.”
And where there’s demand, there’s supply.
“Lots of friends are now swapping skills in a social context,” adds the marketing expert. “One friend recently held a bread-making class at her home, while another offered monthly yoga lessons. For special occasions, there is no greater gift than ‘experience’ vouchers. I just bought an online chocolate-making course for my sister in the UK and she loved it. After all, there are only so many lotions, potions and perfumes you can fit on your dressing table.”
Learning new things isn’t just about getting smarter – it’s about being interested and becoming more interesting. So why not enlist a colleague to teach you how to use Twitter or ask an aunt how to make homemade halwa?
You can learn anywhere, at any time so long as you keep your mind, eyes and ears wide open.