Excessive red tape is proving to be a hill too steep to climb for school dropouts, who want to continue with their education in their mature years, with some of them left on the sidelines, and struggling to get a meaningful job.
What is even more baffling is that there is no uniform standard that all government ministries follow and different official agencies have their own rules and regulations about school dropouts looking to get back to education.
For example, the Ministry of Education allows an 11th Grade dropout to study for a vocational course to acquire a qualification equivalent to a secondary diploma. Then they can move on to the degree courses.
To get an equivalent qualification from a foreign institution, the Ministry of Higher Education does not recognise if an 11th Grade dropout has acquired a certain number of degree years after leaving school. The consideration of equivalency will be based on the 9th Grade qualification, not counting the 10th and 11th Grades.
The ministry also requires the candidate to have work experience immediately after school (at the tender age of 15) and additional experience after acquiring the degree. Moreover, these regulations are not communicated to employers.
The Ministry of Manpower is also left powerless to intervene and solve the employment problems of those affected.
Dropouts are left in a dilemma because of the inconsistency of the governing bodies. The Ministry of Education does not provide statistics on the number of dropouts, but there are probably thousands out there standing at the crossroad of uncertainty when they could have done something to better their lives.
Access to higher education is important for all. Young people in their early teenage years make mistakes, but they should not be punished for the rest of their lives for one slip-up.
What many do not understand is that such young people start life as dropouts, but many of them show the willingness to make corrections later on. If the bureaucracy is not eased to get them back on track, then the system is failing them.
It is also important for Oman to follow international norms or established standards practiced by other countries. Strict rules and unbending regulations do not necessarily ensure quality, but mostly get in the way of people, who want to improve their careers and have already shown the willingness to put their mistakes behind them.
But if the problem persists, and there is a likelihood that it will, Oman must have a National School Dropout Prevention Centre. It will investigate the cause of dropping out and how to find a remedy for it. But statistics are important for understanding the dropout rate. Students do not leave schools prematurely for the joy of it. There must be a common ground, including missing too many classes, falling grades, could not get along with teachers or peers and other reasons behind it.
Moreover, this Centre will act as a beacon of light for the dropouts and would provide them with a helpline on how to quickly get back to education. It will also serve as a pedestal for those, who are already dangling on the line, and who cannot get recognition for the degrees awarded from foreign institutions just because the red tape was too thick to cut. The Centre will need to be managed independently and not be affiliated to the Ministry of Education for it to work properly. It will provide feedback, not only to the Ministry, but to both higher education institutions and employers.
Treating dropouts as a terminal case has severe consequences in the long run at the national level. Helping them to get back on track has many advantages. When young people with ambitions feel they have no one to turn to or see that the path to the future is blocked, they can turn to mischief.
Hence, it is important for the bureaucracy to find a quicker solution that would satisfy both quality in qualification and the welfare of the candidates for the sake of the nation’s well being and the economy