Muscat: Schools and universities in Oman are preparing to welcome students back to classrooms after more than a year, under COVID-19 precautions drawn up by the government.
Classes have moved online since the pandemic came to Oman in February 2020, but with more than 2.3 million people vaccinated, a drop in daily infection rates, and emphasis on vaccinating students and teachers, education institutions in the country are taking up either blended or physical learning, although some continue to offer online classes for those who wish to continue distance learning.
While some education systems have already begun the new term conducting only online classes, others will have students return to classrooms when they reopen in September.
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Sultan Qaboos University has said all students will be required to attend classes on-campus, with the new academic year beginning on September 5.
“SQU exhorts students, teaching and administrative staff to take the vaccine against COVID-19 and to stick to the precautionary measures and procedures set by the Supreme Committee,” said the university. “An instructional guide to this effect was issued by the university to ensure a safe return to study.”
The protocols laid down mean that both the Indian and Pakistan school systems have to set up individual seating arrangements for each school, based on student strength.
“We have received circulars from the Ministry of Education on how to organise classrooms, and this has been circulated to all the school management committees in our institutions,” said an official from the Board of Directors for Indian Schools in Oman. “Obviously, the practices each school will follow will vary, because of the differing student numbers.”
There are currently 21 Indian community schools across Oman: Muscat, Al Ghubra, Wadi Kabir, Darsait, Seeb, Maabela, Salalah, Sohar, Nizwa, Muladha, Sur, Ibri, Ibra, Jalan, Rustaq, Khasab, Buraimi, Masirah, Thumrait, Saham, and Bausher.
“We are currently drawing up plans for each school and these will be finalised in the coming days,” added the board official.
There are also seven schools under the Pakistan school system in the country, operating in Muscat, Mussanah, Nizwa, Seeb, Buraimi, Sohar, and Salalah, and are overseen by Senior Principal Nasir Nawaz.
“The protocols drawn up by the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education are to do with safe distances between students, so we need to make sure this is factored into our seating plans,” he said. “We had, in March of this year, set up a similar plan with 16 students in a classroom, but then we moved completely online after the Supreme Committee decisions to stop all in-person learning.”
British School Muscat will continue to offer online classes to those who need them, but expects students to return to in-person learning on September 1.
“We are open!” the school said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming all our students back onto the school site for the start of term on 1 September 2021. Online learning options are still available if required. Please contact the school offices or our admissions team to find out more.”
Meanwhile, keeping COVID safety protocols in mind, other universities and colleges in the country have also come up with plans for in-person learning that do differ between institutions.
Muscat University has made it clear that only vaccinated students will be allowed on campus.
“As the new academic year 2021/2022 is set to start, we urge all the students to get completely vaccinated as soon as possible,” the university said in a statement. “Vaccination is a prerequisite to enter the campus premises and hence to get attendance.”
Over at Middle East College, as part of efforts to keep students safe during their academics, postgraduate students can choose from three blended modes of study: weekend learning, part-time, and full-time. Student learning plans at MEC will be made in keeping with ministerial regulations.
“It is always a priority for us to introduce mechanisms to provide access to working individuals who are planning to upskill and advance their careers,” said Dr Smitha Nair, the head of the Centre for Postgraduate Studies at MEC. “The new modes of master’s degree programmes with a blended weekend and part-time format are convenient options.”
The German University of Technology (GUTech) has also announced that an in-person graduation ceremony will take place for those who have graduated this and the previous year.
These will be held “consecutively in November/December for the cohort of 2020 and in January for the cohort of 2021 in the open atrium on campus,” said GUTech. “Holding both ceremonies will be dependent on obtaining approvals from relevant authorities.”
The Ministry of Education has said that depending on student strength, high-density international or community schools with 3,000 or more students may function with 30 per cent to 70 per cent capacity.
Such schools can function using blended learning, a combination of physical and online classes.
Students from grades one to six must be seated at distances of two metres from each other when in class, while students between grades seven and 12 must be 1.5 apart.
However, private schools offering special education classes can continue to follow the direct education system, while adhering to precautions.