In the current weaker economic climate, the government may want to consider outsourcing a certain percentage of its basic education system to the private sector to save rising costs and improve efficiency.
Thanks to the continuing baby boom, the population in Oman has been rising steadily at an average of 4.5 per cent per year for the last decade. This trend has a put a lot of pressure on the government to build schools and fund them.
The 2016 budget has allocated OMR1.654 billion for education, which is 14 per cent of the total expenditure. There are over 700,000 students currently studying in government schools. The demand for establishing new schools, paying for maintenance and teachers is rising all the time.
But reducing the ever increasing fiscal deficit is not the only thing that needs to be done. The government is also under pressure to maintain quality teaching. To cite a few perspectives and concerns apart from the financial part, there are questions about whether students are falling behind or the system is struggling to keep creativity in the curriculum. Traditionally, government 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 of the issue is that the government’s outsourcing education should not disrupt the existing practices followed by upscale private schools. It can charge the fees at 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 a better bargain in terms of quality by tapping the skills of private teachers. 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 school children 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 with 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 advantages it will give to children from poor families will be to acquire a 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 for 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 parents peace of mind about 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 workforce because employers would know that graduates have received a well-maintained system of education by the time they interview them.