Despite ministry decision, parents still paying primary school fees [Archives:2008/1185/Front Page]

August 28 2008

Khaled Al-Hilaly
SANA'A, Aug. 27 ) Yemen's education minister confirmed in a statement to the Yemen Times on Tuesday that his ministry is investigating those school principals who breach its decision to eliminate primary school fees.

Last week, the Education Ministry issued a law exempting primary students from paying school fees for girls in grades 1 through 9 and boys in grades 1 through 6. The announcement comes only two weeks before the start of the 2008-2009 school year.

According to Education Minister Abdulsallam Al-Jawfi, “A number of school principals in Sana'a governorate are being investigated for collecting fees from primary school students, which is an infringement of the Ministry of Education's decree.”

As parent Nabil Mohammad Ali comments, “Poor people find it difficult to afford school fees, so this will help them save some money for other essentials, like food.”

Naseem Al-Rahman, chief information officer for UNICEF in Sana'a, notes, “This is a significant achievement by the Yemeni government, illustrating its commitment to providing all children fee-free primary education.”

Because Al-Jawfi expects an increase in student enrollment this year, “We've prepared some procedures and motivations, such as rationing schools for girls' study in remote areas.”

He continued, “We also have financial support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), UNICEF and the Basic Education Development Project in Yemen for girl students in governorates such as Al-Mahwit, Hadramout, Raymah, Sana'a and Mukalla. This year, the ministry has contracted 1,000 new women teachers.”

Mansour Mohammed Sa'eed, principal of Salahaddin School in Ibb governorate, predicts, “Enrollment will increase due to having free primary education, but rationing girl students is an excellent step by the government because it will cause girls' schools' enrollment to rise rapidly.”

He notes, “We've started complying with the new law and not collecting fees from students in primary school grades 1 through 6 for boys and 1 through 9 for girls – just a YR 50 certificate fee.”

Sa'eed hopes that all primary and secondary students will be provided free education, but points out that schools also need to be supported in order to be able to continue their work well.

In that regard, Al-Jawfi points out that his ministry's operating budget increased YR 500 million over last year, to be distributed among schools nationwide.

However, despite the new law, a number of schools in the capital secretariat continue collecting fees from primary school students. Many parents don't know about the new law and those who do either can't do anything about it or they consider it too small an amount of money.

A source requesting to remain anonymous reports that the capital secretariat's leadership along with the education districts in the capital secretariat, met and decided to collect fees from students in all grades because they consider the ministry's decision still just a promise and they are in need of fees to operate their schools.

“When the Ministry of Education pays the schools per student like it promised, then we'll return the students' fees,” the source said.

Abdullah Al-Qumri of Sana'a, who came to register his children at Nashwan School in Old Sana'a, wondered why the Education Ministry abolished the primary school fees, when in reality, they still are being collected. “What do parents get out of such a decision? School fees don't burden families that much,” he maintains.

UNICEF's Al-Rahman points out that Yemen has made progress in education in recent years. “Fees were a significant barrier keeping children out of school, so this decision will have a positive impact on education by helping poor families send their children to schools and decreasing the rate of school dropouts,” he predicted.

According to a UNICEF report for 2000-2006, total primary school enrollment in Yemen was estimated at 87 percent for boys, but only 63 percent for girls.

Many countries, including Yemen, gradually are working to abolish school fees in an effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of universal free primary education by 2015.