While a degree can be a passport to a better job, some young people are passing on the opportunity and dropping out of schools and colleges, Alvin Thomas reports.
When 18-year-old Tareq* left his classroom for the last time in August last year, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. He did not have any goals, any vision or even a role model to follow or to help guide him.
But he was sure about one thing: he wasn’t going to set foot in another educational institution ever again. He never again wanted to see his school desk and chair, his thick, worn textbooks or even his teachers, to whom he says he was “shackled”.
But then again, why would he? He considers school to be a “waste of time”. According to the youngster, he could achieve so much more on his own.
But this begs an important question: could he survive on his own without a degree? If so, how?
Tareq comes armed with a ready answer, saying: “I have faith in my thought processes. My goal is to settle down soon, get myself a job and a car, and perhaps move out of my family home.”
He explains that it was always a part of his “plan” to let go of school and books after he was done with education, and apply for a position with one of the ministries.
“I know many of my neighbour brothers who have landed jobs across different fields in the Government.
“They too were like me. They left school at a very young age to pursue their dreams. And they earn more than RO1,000 every month, and that is more than enough for me to survive in Oman.
“Of course, I cannot expect to have such a starting salary but I can still learn the tricks of the trade as soon as I get appointed and receive training from my superiors. That’s how my friends learned their jobs,” he says.
“People didn’t go to schools or universities to learn their tasks back in the day. And my father is the biggest example of that.
“My father took a senior position for the Government before I was even born and I have seen him do very well in his career. And you want to know his qualification? Grade seven,” he says proudly.
“He easily brings home RO3,000, and that is more than what anybody could ask for. Moreover, I have received five more years of training in school, which should mean that I can do so much better than him,” he exclaims.
Through a mutual friend, Y was told that Tareq’s father was understandably unhappy about his son’s decision and wants him to avail himself of higher education. But Tareq is unwilling to choose a degree course, and has no “set targets”.
Further adding to his father’s woes is that Tareq has yet to find a job with the ministry like he had hoped, and has still not applied or registered for a higher education course.
But, in truth, Tareq is only one among a sea of youngsters still looking for a job in the Sultanate. According to a survey report from the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI), half of all young Omani job-seekers need at least three-and-a-half years to find a job in the country.
Shedding light on the issue, an Indian college professor from a local university, who did not wish to be named, says: “Anybody who is aware of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection will be able to verify that it is the stronger, more well-trained and educated individuals who will land a more successful career than those who aren’t.
“It’s a given that those who attain professional working degrees will have more chance of getting a job than those who don’t. But even then, you have a lot of children taking semester-long breaks as well as leaving colleges for pursuing a job in today’s day and age.
“When people start looking at the reasons as to why children drop out from schools and colleges, it begs the question: are we doing anything wrong?
“Over the years, I have learned that we cannot take things like this to heart and that we must concentrate on the children whom we have at hand.
“But if there is something that niggles me, it is the fact that, thanks to the recent oil price crisis, a lot of jobs have been affected inadvertently, and therefore, parents are finding it hard to keep funding their children’s education.
“But of course, there are many reasons as to why children drop out of college. Lack of interest and an inability to narrow down a particular field is one of the biggest fears in every child’s mind.
“And in truth, I personally feel that there is no training given to these kids at a younger age in schools to explore their interests.”
The professor is right in pointing out her worries over the alarming number of students dropping out from schools and colleges. A recent study published by the Higher Education Admission Center shows that nearly 11,000 students quit their studies at high schools and colleges across the country in the 2014-15 academic year.
She points out that one of the most crucial reasons for students leaving their courses halfway is the inability to commit to them.
“Some of these children only realise the seriousness of the course they have opted for, and what they will have to settle down with, only after they begin their classes, and most times it’s not even their fault.
“In my experience, a lot of students decide to realign their interests only a year or two down the road. This could have been avoided if they knew more about what they were getting into through training in schools.
“For example, software engineering is a highly skilled subject with a lot of theory. Some students who are interested in the subject opt for it with the interest in doing something with the knowledge. However, there are also a good number of students who come here who are unaware of the difficulty of the course, and hence they drop out,” she says.
From the study, published by the Higher Education Admission Center, we have learned that more than 31.3 per cent of student dropouts are from the engineering and technology fields. Meanwhile, administration and commerce students make up 28.9 per cent, and information technology recorded a 12 per cent drop-out rate.
Oman is one of the GCC countries that provides free education throughout all three levels (primary, middle and secondary) of school. But despite this, education is not compulsory and, therefore, is not strictly enforced.
According to the professor, this creates a void in the education system.
When a student leaves university halfway through a course, it would have cost the Government money, as well as the cost of materials, not to mention a spot for another student more committed to studying. It is worth noting that when a student opts for a particular course, the seat corresponding to it is blocked. This means that another student who may have wanted to study the same degree could have been forced to enrol in another course that may not be in their best interest.
Recently published statistics show that a total of 10,725 students dropped out from both public and private institutions in the 2014-15 academic year, of which 64 per cent were male and the remaining 36 per cent were female.
This number constitutes 8 per cent of the total 132,177 students who attended school during the 2014-15 academic year.
As for the reasons cited for dropping out, 30.5 per cent of respondants said it was because of “personal issues”. This was followed by “academic reasons”, with 25.4 per cent, and 24.8 per cent said “no particular reason”.
Other reasons included “loss of the will” to continue studying, being employed during studies, as well as financial difficulties, medical issues and death.
Abdul Nasser, an engineer based in Muscat who graduated from one of the leading universities in the country, says: “I personally believe that with a growing number of unemployed individuals in our country, there will be a genuine drop in the number of those studying without a scholarship.
“The average price of an engineering course is RO3,000 in Oman, and my course was close to RO2,000. Luckily, when I studied, my father’s company was paying for my education so it wasn’t a problem for me but with the recent slump in the market, I’ve heard that a lot of people have left their courses halfway because their companies stopped funding their education.
“This is quite worrying, especially if the student is in his or her final years. That’s a waste of time as well as precious resources.”
Meanwhile, culture and society majors recorded a 6.9 per cent withdrawal rate, and religion and philosophy recorded the lowest rate with just 0.3 per cent.
Of the students dropping out from colleges, 69.8 per cent were pursuing a bachelor’s degree while 25.8 per cent were seeking a diploma.
Finally, 53.3 per cent of students came from private institutions while the remainder were studying at public institutions.
Experts who are analysing the educational system also seem to think that this outflow of students from schools and colleges and into the job market will have an adverse effect on the public and private sectors. Mubarak, a local businessman and investor, believes the high number of dropouts will be a major issue for the private sector in Oman.
He says: “This dropout rate puts the Government in limbo, and that will cause the private sector to crumble around it, too.
“The more dropouts, the more unskilled labour there will be and, correspondingly, higher levels of unemployment will be the result.
“People here in Oman shout for Omanisation but in truth, a high percentage of our students aren’t even skilled enough to be working in certain organisations.
“There’s a certain difference between working in the private sector and the public sector. I am not qualified enough to comment on the latter but what I can say is that the private sector is a lot more challenging, with set targets and goals to achieve on a monthly basis. And our kids aren’t always able to get to grips with the jobs they are assigned to, especially when they’re fresh out of college,” he says.
Earlier, Y had contacted a senior executive from an international retail conglomerate, who shed light on this
“Our company is aligned to hire a certain number of staff from Oman in our country and we are very happy to do so.
“But there is a certain lack in the skillset they possess. I found a few of them to be slacking in their job due to the lack of training they received in their higher education. Of course, I cannot say the same holds true with every individual but this has been something of a concern for us.
“The best way to alleviate this would be to begin a nationwide career guidance drive. What this will do is that it will give students a brief idea about a course, and the nature of the job they will be required to do after graduating from the course.
“You cannot simply come seeking a job and expect to settle into it. Of course, some do but that’s not the case every time. More internships need to be handed out to students and that will set the tone for their career,” says the executive.
With school drop out and unemployment rates hitting an all time high in the Sultanate and with concerns over the current education system, there are many questions being raised as to whether our young generation will be prepared for a future of austerity and hard work or whether they will crumble under the pressure. Time will tell.
• Some of the names in this article have been changed for privacy reasons
[styled_box title=”Schooling in Oman” color=”black”]
The first six years of basic education are similar in concept to a western primary school.
• Middle Education
Three years of upper basic education follow. Depending on the individual student they may complete their education at this point and seek work. Alternatively, according to their grades they may go on to secondary school.
• Secondary Education
During the three years of secondary school that follow, students have the option of specialising in either the sciences or the arts, provided that their basic school results confirm their aptitude.
• Vocational Education
A network of vocational centres provides opportunities for basic school leavers in need of professional training lasting between one and three years.
• Tertiary Education
There are over 30 colleges in Oman. Sultan Qaboos University is the largest university in the country.