Conference on promoting higher education, Washington, DC [Archives:2007/1041/Local News]

April 12 2007

By: Yasmeen Al-Eryani
For Yemen Times

WASHINGTON, April 10th ) Last week witnessed the first conference launched by the American Association of Yemen Scientists and Professionals (AAYSP) in Washington, DC)”Shaping the Future of Yemenis through Education.”

Over a hundred Yemeni intellectuals and professionals came from across the United States and Yemen to share two days of interactive discussions and workshops for promoting higher education among Yemenis at home and abroad as well as highlighting education as the first step to the economic and intellectual growth of the community.

The conference featured a high level of professionalism, drawing from speakers of various walks of life and various academic backgrounds. Audience members peppered the panel with questions, spurring a dynamic debate on strategies for promoting higher education and assessing the obstacles it faces.

Dr. Nasser Zawia, an associate professor at the University of Rhode Island and the Director of the AAYSP, pointed out that the conference was handled completely by Yemenis and it is a proof that “we can do it on our own” despite the very low self-esteem many Yemenis suffer from. Further, he emphasized during the first panel that “This is not a forum to vent but to think of what we can do next.”

The final panel was an account told by young Yemeni students who insisted on the pursuit of higher education despite of the many difficulties they face.

The speakers argued that a major problem facing higher education in Yemen is low funding for research)”There is no investment in human resources,” said Dr. Nasher. “There is no innovation without research,” said Dr. Zawia.

Dr. Nasher noted that the teachers in Yemeni universities are stymied by their own rigid mentality, stress, and the lack of quality research facilities. However, he pinpointed that “this does not justify the way they teach.”

Dr. Al-Eryani also addressed the politicization of educational institutions with campuses driven by polarizing political interests and partisanship, he said, “Universities are turned into an arena for political and ideological conflicts. Some are being run by political logic, not in accordance with the educational policy.”

Higher education can be reformed, according to Dr. Zawia, through the transformation of private-for-profit institutions to private-non-profit ones and also by making public schools and universities abandon the ruling party's line for the voice and “participation of the public” . Additionally, he pointed out that a well-established funding mechanism is essential to this reform.

Dr. Zawia and Dr. Nasher together have distributed an estimated $400,000 worth of books to different universities in Yemen.

Two of the panels addressed cultural and social obstacles holding back the Yemeni-Americans from pursuing higher education and strategies to promote change. It is worth mentioning that most early Yemeni immigrants to the United States were uneducated and did not value education for their children.

Another problem is the discouragement of females from going to college as a way for protecting them because some Yemeni-Americans fear that potential suitors would shy from educated young women.

Dr. Dahan Al-Najjar suggested that Yemeni communities in America should think of the United States as their current home and seek to integrate and contribute to it.

Furthermore, the first day was concluded with dinner and the handing of Academic Excellence Awards and Social Services to Ms. Zeinab Hasan and Ms. Zeinab Al-Kibsi. Also, Awards of appreciation were given to Ms. Atiaf Al-Wazir for her dedication in organizing the conference, for the AAYSP, and for Dr. Rashid Abdu for his recent book titled Journey of a Yemeni Boy. Finally the attendees were entertained by an hour of live Yemeni music.

Dr. Zawia says that he hopes that the conference will continue next year, either in Michigan or New York, both states with large Yemeni expatriate communities. He said the next step for the organization now is to open an office in Yemen so as to encourage intellectual dialogue and share experiences. A plan is in the works to create scholarship fund groups to help Yemeni students with higher education expenses according to Dr. Zawia. In fact, it has already started in Michigan.

Mr. Abdelsalam Mubarez, the elected-president of the Yemeni-American Association and a businessman from New York, also expressed his desire to have a scholarship fund organization specifically for Yemeni New Yorkers. This comes after the recent approval by the New York City school system to open an Arabic-language public school headed by a Yemeni-American woman, Debbie Al-montaser.