One Passport, Many Stories: An Omani innovation in education

Maya al Mugheiri, as a student, was always thoughtful, enthusiastic and innovative. Now, Maya al Mugheiri the teacher and educator, has demonstrated all of those traits in a new English Language programme she recently unveiled at the Noor Al Maarifa Grade 1-4 school in Ibra, a relatively new school, which has been open since 2016.
Al Mugheiri’s programme, for cycle one students, sees them issued with a ‘passport.’ Then, they ‘travel’ to each of (currently) four English speaking countries. To begin their journey they should read three stories, over three weeks, set in Oman. Then they can ‘travel’ to the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, and back to Oman again with it being able to be used as a competition, or just as a resource.
“Over the 15 weeks, the students should have read 15 books,” she explained, “and the prospects are endless in terms of involving other English speaking countries later in their education. I can see the likes of Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, Scotland, Ireland, and so on, all with their specific, diverse and recognisable cultures and identities, being added to the format at a subsequent level. It’s so exciting!”
Her programme is inspired by what she sees as an absolute priority for her students to, “Have a love of the English language, and want to read and speak it, rather than see it as an unwelcome imposition in their lives. To do so they must develop reading and comprehension skills, and to do that they must also develop their ability to speak and communicate in English.”
She explained too that she realises there are many aspects of language learning which are important to the learning process, such as vocabulary, structure and syntax, however she is adamant that, “by introducing the elements of challenge and competition, and the novelty of new countries and all they have to offer, culturally and visually, we can encourage the elements of fun and play in their learning.”
Although the programme was introduced utilising the lifelike passports with the student’s photos, homemade stamps, and books, Al Mugheiri has moved on to a computer based version which utilises read scripts by Malcolm Veitch, a teacher in the University of Nizwa Foundation Institute. These audios help the students to recognise correct pronunciation and intonation. An extensive assessment format has also been created, and the complete programme is currently being tested and refined. “When a student has read the resources linked to a country, they are assessed, and if they pass, their passport is stamped and they can ‘fly’ to the next country.”
Al Mugheiri sought technical development assistance during one of the educational workshops, which is being provided by Ali al Alawi, and said, “currently we are working on an application that we envisage will be accessible by teachers and students using passwords, as a desktop application, via computers within the school’s internal networks, linked to a local MySQL database. The application of educational support in the development of students’ skills has become a priority of teachers, and an area of enthusiasm even for the younger students, now that the technology is at our fingertips, so we must use it.”
Encouraged throughout by her colleagues and supervisors, among whom Dr Hamood al Hunaini commented, ”I believe the project provides learners with opportunities to enjoy the pleasure of reading.” Muna al Hinai agreed saying, “It’s a great idea, because it enhances and improves all of the student’s skills. Raya al Mugheiri, is Maya’s sister, a fellow English teacher, and an assistant on the project, and she says, “This competition helps the students to learn a whole new vocabulary, all of which will be helpful in their future learning and education.” Significant validation came too from Mohammed al Barwani, Administrative Supervisor of the Sharqiyah North Governorate, saying “the reading passport was the main reason my son, Al-Faith, increased his vocabulary so much last year.”
“Best of all,” says the younger Al Mugheiri, “the kids are enjoying it so much and it’s motivating them, like young Amira, a Jordanian student in Grade two, just can’t wait to get!” Mohammed Ali from grade three said, “I like to add more vocabulary to my own dictionary.” Asia from grade three said, “I enjoy reading the books,” while her friend Manar who now reads English at home, thought that, “the travelling is a good idea.” Jana Ibrahim from grade four explained that her favourite part is “listening to the recorded stories which are provided in the competition,” and Khadijah from grade four said, “I will do my level best to win in the competition.” Durra, who had tried the programme in Grade three, was determined to be the winner last year, and did so, so it develops competitiveness as well.
It’s evident that this programme has significant potential, and its publicity shy young developer/educator, and her fellow innovators, would love to see funding made available for the further development of the project, and its IT components including an application. “The prospects, and the resource and continued development opportunities are limitless,” she said passionately, “and whether it was to be private, or ministerial, I would like nothing better than to see it enhanced and presented in every school in Oman. After all, what’s the point of innovation if we don’t embrace it?”
This is an educationalist in the making. Thoughtful, visionary, and enthusiastic, motivated only by her desire to teach effectively. With her sister Raya, she forms an emphatic statement of innovation and excellence, noted in so many young Omani women in the education sector.