In response to the Royal directives of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik to foster communication with the public through open dialogue and involve society in shaping future visions and strategies, the Secretariat-General of the Council of Ministers organised the second edition of the 'Together We Make Progress' forum under the auspices of HH Sayyid Theyazin bin Haitham al Said, Minister of Culture, Sports and Youth, on Sunday.
The forum, which was held at the Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre and lasts for two days, also aims to review policies, development programmes and government initiatives, and provide citizens opportunity to express their opinions and suggestions, and share their concerns and challenges with officials in a participatory environment.
Speaking on the occasion, Shaikh Al Fadhl bin Mohammed al Harthy, Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers, said: "The 'Together We Progress' forum in its second edition comes as an embodiment of the approach of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik on the importance of strengthening communication between the government and society and to complete the strengthening of the principle of community participation."
The General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers presented a questionnaire via an electronic link to provide the public with the opportunity to choose an axis from among three proposed axes, during which 4,664 people participated in the voting, and the human and society axis received the largest percentage of (2,248) votes.
He said that the labour market and employment were the most sought-after topics with 756 votes compared to other topics. Therefore, this version of the forum was expanded to be held over two days, and the number of people invited to attend has doubled to touch 1,200.
The number of those registered through the forum’s electronic platform reached 5,314, and a methodology was adopted in sorting that essentially reflects the percentage distribution of citizens in the governorates, in terms of age groups, work status, and academic qualifications.
He said that the forum will address topics related to education sector, both school and higher levels, in addition to reviewing the issue of the health sector, the social protection system, and the social development sector, while Monday will be devoted to holding three dialogue sessions to discuss the topics - the labour market and employment, developing the youth sector and media and national identity.
He added that the activities of the forum will be accompanied by holding a special exhibition on Oman Vision 2040, and the national programmes concerned with government digital transformation, economic diversification, employment, investment and export development, and zero neutrality, with the aim of introducing them, their plans, and their role in achieving goals, in addition to allocating a corner for social protection system.
The initial session featured the Minister of Education, the Minister of Higher Education, and the Chairman of the Oman Authority for Academic Accreditation and Quality Assurance of Education. The session concluded with valuable contributions from participants, and audience interaction proved lively and fruitful.
During her address, Dr Madeeha bint Ahmed al Shaibaniyah, Minister of Education, highlighted that over one million students attend schools across the Sultanate of Oman, including 77,000 Omanis, with 18,679 teachers hired between 2016 and 2023. She mentioned the ongoing efforts to construct 251 new schools, with 29 slated for completion this year. Additionally, plans involve replacing 5,000 current school buses with new ones from the Oman-based Karwa company in Al Duqm at a rate of 1,000 per year, with plans to increase the value of the bus contract to RO 600. There are also plans to shift all afternoon classes to morning sessions.
Dr Al Shaibani outlined the strategic objectives of the national education policy, emphasising a high-quality educational system, community engagement, human capacity empowerment, and the cultivation of national competencies that can compete on a global scale.
Dr Rahma bint Ibrahim al Mahrouqiyah, Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, said that her ministry seeks to upgrade the quality of university education, supply the labour market with highly-qualified resources and enhance the human capital.
Dr Rahma added that the ministry’s strategy seeks to align academic programmes with the requirements of the labour market. The strategy also aims to achieve research excellence with the prime objective of generating the desired economic and social impacts. In addition, the ministry’s strategy focuses on sustained development of vocational education and training programmes and to comply with national and international standards in this domain.
She highlighted that six private universities entered the QS classification for the Arab region, and 17 private higher education institutions received institutional accreditation certificates from the Omani Authority for Academic Accreditation. Oman also achieved a progressive position, ranking 69th globally in the innovation index for 2023.
She also mentioned the consideration of a monthly stipend for students in private higher education institutions, the launch of a student sponsorship initiative, and plans to attract more international students to Sultan Qaboos University to enhance its global standing.
For his part, Dr Hilal bin Ali al Sabti, Minister of Health, said that the strategic approach of the health sector in Oman lays emphasis on sustainability and centralisation of services, technical and medical systems, qualified human resources and the implementation of diversified and sustainable funding sources.
The health sector’s programmes during the 10th-Five-Year Plan include comprehensive health coverage, governance and restructuring of the health sector and the establishment of a more efficient planning and financing system, said Dr Hilal.
He also said that plans are under way to open three pharmaceutical and medical solutions factories in Nizwa, Rusayl and Salalah.
Dr Hilal added the ministry seeks to save citizens' time and effort by providing treatment in their governorate or at a specialised hospital nearby, without the hassle of travelling to Muscat for treatment.
Meanwhile, Social Development Minister Dr Laila bint Ahmed al Najar said that the priorities of Oman Vision 2040 include social care, family and community development, services for people with disabilities, self-employment, civil society institutions and social responsibility programmes.
Dr Laila added that the ministry is embarked on programmes to develop the services offered to people with disabilities, with the prime aim of facilitating their integration into society.
In a statement Nasser bin Khamees al Jashmi, Chairman of the Social Protection Fund, said that maternity leave insurance targets the health of both the mother and child, ensuring that there is sufficient time for the mother to dedicate herself to caring for her child. It also works to reduce discrimination against women in employment, as the employer will not be responsible for paying wages during the leave period. Instead, the fund will cover it, and the employer can contract with others to cover the work during that period. Regarding the latest figures for social protection, he mentioned that 1,391,061 beneficiaries received social protection benefits until January 2024, with a total amount of RO 37,916,749 spent until January 2024.
For her part, Dr Jokha bint Abdullah al Shukailiyah, CEO of Oman Authority for Academic Accreditation and Educational Quality Assurance, said that the authority’s programmes focus on high quality and public partnership, as well as the continuous evaluation of school performance and educational efficiency.
Dr Jokha pointed out that the authority has endorsed a national system for academic programmes on accreditation, the application of standards of international bodies in the fields of external quality assurance and the assessment of basic programmes.
The forum saw the launch of an "Idea Makers" initiative, which aims to encourage citizens to develop homegrown innovative solutions that reflect the national identity and excellence in communication between the government and society. The initiative aims at considering creative ideas of youth as measures to achieve the future aspirations of Oman Vision 2040.
HH Sayyid Theyazin will participate in the second session of the forum on Monday, which aims to engage with participants and address their aspirations and proposals.
Dr Abdullah bin Nasser al Harrasi, Minister of Information, and Dr Mahad bin Said Baowain, Minister of Labour, will also participate. The primary topics of discussion include society and citizenship, education and learning, scientific research, national capabilities, welfare and social protection, health, youth sector development, labour market and employment, and local media.
By Mai al Abri & Ahmed al Kaabi