A plea to donors to prevent the spread of illiteracy further:Save Yemen’s future! [Archives:2003/665/Viewpoint]

September 4 2003

“I cannot afford to send my children to school any more. I was barely able to borrow money and pay the fees last year when they were much lower. I do not want to even think of the other expenses of books, bags, and other requirements. I cannot send my kids to school any more.”
This is what a poor construction worker told me two days ago when I asked about how school registration was going for his children. Realizing that lacking of the few thousand rials could destroy his children's future, I paid him the due amount with the hope that he would have them registered. Yet honestly speaking, I am still uncertain whether he would indeed have them registered because there are other expenses to pay too.
In a time Yemen is witnessing one of the most severely harsh economic conditions in its history, the government's move to increase school tuition more than two folds is as if we are encouraging the poor to leave schools and become illiterate.
We already have one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, i.e., more than 60%. We cannot afford to impose more restrictions on education in the country. For Yemen, education should be 100% free. I am sure our decision-makers realize that education is the key to a bright future, and this cannot be achieved by putting obstacles ahead of those willing to have their kids sent to school.
If the donor community wants Yemen to help itself, then it should focus on the need to relieve the poor of paying such school tuition. Education should be the easiest ever option for any poor family because this is an investment for the future.
On the other hand, the government needs to generate some income to have the educational system running as usual. Taking into account that around 5 million students would register this year in public schools, the total amount of money that could be gained from tuition could reach as high as seven billion Yemeni rials, which is around USD 38 million, which is peanuts compared to the importance of education in our lives.
Depriving any Yemeni child of learning is a major human rights violation that contradicts the ethics and values of today's world.
The Yemeni government needs to realize that education for the future generations is a must for any long-term plan for progress and prosperity. Simply put, Yemen cannot progress with an illiterate nation.
I plea as a faithful Yemeni citizen to the international organizations through this editorial to work on a solution to prevent the further decline of the number of students enrolling into schools. Predictions of a worrying number of children would not enroll in schools this year are already emerging. The issue is serious and action is needed now.
A fund can be established as an initiative to by donors to pay on behalf of those poor Yemeni families that cannot afford to pay their children's tuition fees. This can be achieved by taking proper measures and accurate information about numbers of students and citizens.
If it was so easy for me to find a father who openly said he would not send his children to school, then it would also be as easy to locate hundreds of thousands of children deprived of education because of economic conditions.
There is a lot at stake here! I know readers realize how dangerous the situation is, but some steps need to be taken to avert a disaster. We need to act, and act fast to save Yemen's future.