Al-Samawi to YT: “All That Has Been Said Is Misleading” [Archives:2001/20/Interview]

May 14 2001

The recent decision of the government to unite the two educational systems, which was endorsed by the parliament last week has caused a heated debate between the GPC and Islah party, main controllers of the so-called Scientific Institutes. Mohammed b. Sallam met with Abdulrahman Al-Samawi, Director of the Educational Affairs Office at the General Authority of Scientific Institutes and filed the following
Q: What is the function of the Educational Affairs Office?
A: It supervises the educational activities on the principal and teacher levels, manages and distributes teachers to institutes.
Q: What is the mechanism of choosing teachers and textbooks?
A: Islamic and linguistic textbooks are determined by a committee of ‘Olama’ (Religion Scholars). This is what distinguishes the institutes’ textbooks from the governmental ones. The rest of textbooks are the same as those taught at schools.
Q: How are the Islamic and linguistic textbooks chosen?
A: An ad hoc committee of a number of scholars was formed in the 1980s under the directives of the President to determine these textbooks. Since then the textbooks have developed and improved in harmony with the other religious institutes in the Arab Countries away from biases and extremism. In other words, outlining the Islamic curricula was on the bases of finding a moderate background that does not incline to any of the five Islamic doctrines. This has been given more attention in order to preserve unity of the nation. This is one of the highest objectives of our curricula.
Q: What is your reaction to the present campaigns against institutes?
A: I wonder if there is a difference in the objectives of education in Yemen. I can not think of any. I can hardly see any difference between the curricula of the institutes and the government schools, expect what I have already mentioned. Intensifying the curricula of Islamic and Linguistic studies is just similar to what the specialized institutes do. It is a matter of conspiracy, in my opinion. But if there are doubts about the curricula we teach, then we have to point fingers at all the officials who served at offices since the establishment of these institutes. Let my ask those who are leading the campaign against us, why they have been silent throughout this period?
Q: Chairman of the GPC parliamentarian bloc Sheikh Sultan Al-Barakani said that the Islah spends US$ 7 billion from the state budget each year?
A: This reflects the acute stupidity of Sheikh Al-Barakani. Does he mean that the Minister of Finance and those at the Central Organization for Control and Audit (COCA) are dishonest and that he is the patriot and the guard of the nation’s interests?
What the Institutes get from the Ministry of Finance does not exceed 600 million rials per year. This is spent as salaries for more than 35 thousand teachers who belong to different political parties.
Q: Is it true that students must be recommended by the Islah party in order to be accepted?
A: This is absolutely misleading. The scientific institutes are spread all over the country and not all Yemenis belong to Islah. These institutes have been establish to give knowledge to all Yemenis disregarding their political affiliation.
Q: How many students have graduated from these institutes?
A: Thousands have graduated from these institutes. Some of these graduates are police officers, doctors, engineers, university professors, judges, scholars, etc. They hold good positions in different public and private sectors. So where is the problem since all of us are Yemenis and not strangers?
Q: How many students are currently studying at these institutes?
A: About half a million.
Q: It is rumored that institutes occasionally organize camps which are always exploited for party teachings. What is your comment?
A: This is not true. The students belong to different political parties and some are independent.
Q: How much do the institutes get from the state for the teacher’s salaries etc.?
A: Seven billion rials is spent as salaries for the employees in a year, in addition to 120 million rials which is spent on the Holy Quran Centers and the Authority Offices in the Republic. This is, of course, not enough.
Q: How are graduates employed?
A: According to the general plans of the Civil Service Ministry. Presently we have thousands of students who learn the Holy Quran by heart. We no longer need Arab teachers who have memorized the Holy Quran.
Q: How many non-Yemeni teachers are there?
A: Two thousand. They used to be more but many of them have been replaced by Yemenis. The remaining are in charge of the rare fields of specialization and experts in the conducting of examinations.
Q: How do these teachers come to teach at your institutes?
A: They come according to cooperation protocols between Yemen and their countries such as that signed between Yemen and Sudan. The institutes also make contracts with a number of Arab teachers who are experienced and well-qualified.
Q: Do institutes receive support from sources other than the government?
A: Institutes do not receive any support form any foreign sources. What happens is that sometimes some national and immigrant businessmen or merchants support building centers for teaching the Holy Quran or institute more classes or departments in their villages or districts.
Q: What are the difficulties the institutes face?
A: Corruption prevailing in many government offices and lack of financial resources are the most prominent challenges. For example, the 6 million rials the institutes get on a monthly basis falls short of the needs of the 35 thousand teachers and all of the operation costs for the 1400 institutes .
Q: How do you explain the present campaign against the institutes at the current time?
A: Education should not be dealt with as a political matter. There are many other demanding issues which we should concentrate on and try to solve. Thousands of schools and institutes need windows, chairs, blackboards, chalks, books, etc. Sometimes one book is shared by a number of students. Such problems must be tackled instead of depleting energy and resources on conspiracies. In the long run, we will remain Yemenis and none of us will be able to drive the other out. These institutes have proved that they are better than schools and parents of students will testify to this.
Q: What do you think of the decision?
A: I never expected this to happen. There should have been a national conference combining all political powers, academicians, and specialists to study the positive, as well as the negative aspects, of each system of teaching. Then we can support what is positive and remove what is negative. This is in my opinion of what should have been done.
Q: Any last comment?
A: We must join hands to build up this country away from political conspiracies. People should understand that the country is just like a ship and if it sank, all of us would drown. They should also understand that education is the backbone for building generations. Any mistakes in the implementation of this policy would result in the degradation of posterity