The benefits of outsourcing Oman’s basic education

SALEH AL SHAIBANY – – The government would want to consider outsourcing a certain percentage of its basic education system to the private sector to save rising costs and improve efficiency. The baby boom in Oman has been increasing in a steady pace at an average of 4.5 per cent per year in the last ten years. This trend has a put a lot of pressure to the government to build schools and fund them.
The 2016 budget has allocated RO 1.654 billion for education, which is 14 per cent of the total expenditure. There are over 700,000 students currently studying in government’s schools. The demand of establishing new schools, pay for the maintenance and teachers is rising all the time.
But reducing the ever rising fiscal deficit is not all. The government is also under the pressure to maintain quality teaching. To cite a few perspectives and concerns apart from the financial part, there are questions whether students are falling behind or the system is struggling to keep creativity in the curriculum. Traditionally, government’s schools are overcrowded and that reduces the competitive edge.
To outsource basic education is not about reforms but all-round efficiency. Although some parents would question whether that would make a difference, many of them would welcome it.
The government should start a pilot programme on selected schools or start outsourcing a limited number of lower grade students to get the feedback. Very few would argue that state education exceeds the expectations of parents. There are many known drawbacks. However, outsourcing education is not as simple as it sounds. Existing private schools are expensive and only well-to-do parents can afford to pay the high fees. The sensitivity is that the government outsourcing should not disrupt the existing practices of upscale private schools. It can set up the fees in the-middle-ground level for participating private education owners who are willing to take up the outsourcing.
This way, the government can slash its basic education’s budget and get better bargain in terms of quality by tapping the skills of private teaching. Under the government-private arrangement, the new system will design the curriculum together. It will be a new partnership between the two sides working for a common goal. This way, both sides will have equal influence on each other on how they want the schoolchildren to learn from basic education. It may well lead to innovation in education and bridge the gap between the public and private requirements. Of course, the government would only partner private education providers which meet the required standard.
It will also be an opportunity to start a new industry to revive the economy in a certain positive way, where the private sector will have a better participation and a firmer hold on the basic education system. At the same time, the partnership will not take away anything from the government but improve the overall structure. It can pave the way for a highly structured, technology-driven model that the modern world demands. One of the biggest advantage, it will give children from poor families to acquire private education without paying anything. For the better off families, they will always opt for expensive all-private education which is already in existence.
The participating private sector would now be more accountable to what they teach and that would lead to greater transparency in teaching material since the government would have a stake in their business. Under the present system of government education, the child is always limited to the knowledge of the teacher. But with the new partnership, teachers from both sides would share resources to improve the learning outcomes. It would give parent peace of mind on the future of their children’s education knowing that both the government and the private sector is working together to improve the quality of education in the country.
If implemented properly, the public-private school arrangement will work well with higher education when the students are ready to enrol for their degree courses. It will also transform the working force because employers would know that graduates have received a well-maintained system of education by the time they interview them.