Educational Challenges Facing Yemen [Archives:1998/19/Focus]

May 11 1998

By: Dr. Abdul-Jabbar A. Sa’ad
Associate Professor,
Faculty of Education, University of Sanaa
Since the establishment of the Republic of Yemen in May 1990, the efforts for democracy and development – in terms of cultural, social and political growth – have had to overcome many challenges in all fields, notably education.
Yemeni legislation has greatly emphasized education as a means for development. The constitution guarantees citizens their rights of political, educational, professional, cultural and scientific growth. The law of education, ratified by parliament in August 1992, confirmed that education is a right for all citizens, that it should be free, and that the government will endeavor to achieve social equality and equal educational opportunities. This law also states that fully integrated and balanced education for Yemenis is one of the essential factors and basis of development for the society and country as a whole.
With that legal and constitutional background, it is easy to see the big efforts in the educational field. Education has expanded and improved, despite many obstacles and challenges that the country faces.
In this article, I have tried to present an assessment of the efforts made by the government and the public in the educational field. I have relied on many official reports, data and statistics, and also on studies and research on the subject.
The article also makes some suggestions for development of education, and the learning process in Yemen.
The Republic of Yemen has witnessed something close to a revolution in the growth of kids in school. Let me give details of this phenomenon by level of education:
a) Pre-School Education (Nursery & Kindergarten):
This level of education in Yemen is still in its early stages of development. The service is still unavailable in many parts of the country, including the cities. Yet, we know that in the school year 1995-1996 alone, there were 110 new nurseries and kindergartens that were opened. Of these, 43 are government operated, and 63 are private. A total of 8,342 children are enrolled in these nurseries.
There are no statistics regarding the total number of children in pre-school level. The number is partly limited due to the high fees required. Only a few families can afford to send their babies to nurseries. Even then, the number is estimated at 100,000.
b) Basic Education:
Some 3 million children are enrolled today in primary and preparatory level education (age category of 6-15 years). Only seven years ago, (in 1990-91), the number was just over 2 million or 2,073,138 to be exact.
Today, almost a million of these are girls, or around 30%. Although this represents a major improvement, it is still important that girls attain parity with boys, at least at the early levels of education.
c) Secondary Education:
There are several types of secondary education. The most important is the general (regular certificate) education. Other types of secondary education include many forms of technical and vocational training.
At this moment, there are just over 320,000 secondary students in the country, of whom, the majority (some 90%) are in General Certificate Education. It means that in spite of all efforts, specialized technical and vocational secondary education continues to be low.
d) University Education:
Post-secondary education has witnessed a dramatic rise in enrollment.
First, the number of universities has risen significantly. Today, Yemen has seven government universities. In addition, there are eight private ones.
Second, there are a number of two year (community) colleges, and several technical, specialized post secondary institutions.
Finally, the number of university students in the country is rising by leaps and bounds. It is estimated that there are some 170,000 university students in the country. Nearly half of these are in Sanaa University.
e) Adult Education:
There is a special program, called strangely enough, Irregular Education. It is actually geared towards adults, notably women, who have missed on the opportunity to learn to read and write.
Adult Education is considered an essential component in formulating and developing the Yemeni individual, considering the sad and backward circumstances Yemenis lived in during the past decades. These circumstances have created an illiteracy as high as 55.8% of the population – aged 10 and older, in 1996. But despite the good intentions and efforts to eradicate illiteracy, the fact is that the number of learners in illiteracy eradication programs has decreased from a peak of 631,228 individuals in 1990/91, to 122,610 in 1994/95. The main reason for disenchantment is that there is no vision for this program, and it ended up a procedural matter which leads to nothing.
f) Private Education:
The private sector has started to invest heavily in education. While this is theoretically a good development, most private schools which charge handsome tuitions and fees, do not offer better education than the government schools. Most private schools offer basic and secondary education.
There are, of course, some excellent schools which have made their mark on the system.
Quantitative development in education has been accompanied by attempts to improve the level of education. The main instrument has been to revise the curricula and the methods of teaching.
The following efforts are representative and noteworthy:
a) Education Research Center:
Efforts have been made to improve curricula. The Education Research Center has played a key role in assessing the contents of subjects, and exerted efforts to upgrde and modernize them. It selectively chose from the two former curricula of North and South Yemen during the unification process. It assigned new components dealing with health, population, and the environment. Finally, it introduced various physical education programs.
b) Books, Teaching Aids:
For the first time ever, the Ministry of Education was able to provide school textbooks at the start of the academic year. Even remote regions got their books in good time. The efforts put into school books – writing, publishing and distribution – paid off.
Improvements have also been made in educational administration. There is better management based on more decentralized decisions.
Finally, various teaching aids have been provided.
c) Teacher Training:
Teachers have been targeted for short time training, notably in summer workshops. They also received attention with respect to higher salaries.
One aspect of the teacher enhancement program has been the Yemenization process that has been unleashed a few years ago. Today, more than 80% of the teachers are locals.
Though enormous efforts have made during the few past years in improving educational services, the country faces a formidable challenge in this field. The government has reacted by allocating more and more funds. Today, education has the highest budgetary allocation – almost a third of the annual expenditures. The public has also reacted positively by ploughing in higher and higher investments. But neither is enough. To clarify this point, let us consider the following issues:
a) School Age Population:
In Yemen today, 52% of the population is under the age of 18 years. This means that the school-age children are roughly 8 million. In other words, the 4 million Yemenis enrolled today in schools represent roughly half of the school age population. That is, for every child in school, there is one at home. This problem will grow given a 3.7% annual population growth rate.
b) Female Education:
We have just seen that only one Yemeni child out of two can go to school. The problem is worse regarding girls. For girls, the chances of going to school are 1:3 at the primary level, to 1:10 at secondary level, and 1:50 at university level.
c) Drop Outs:
One of the major problems for Yemen is the level of drop-out. A full 40% of the children are lost between grades 1 and 6. If 100 children are enrolled in the first grade, only 60 make it to the sixth grade. For a poor country, such a leakage represents a major drain and loss.
This problem is complicated by low attendance levels.
d) Unqualified Teachers:
Most of the teachers are not well qualified for the job. The problem is further compounded as the Ministry of Education uses fresh secondary graduates as teachers.
There is also a wrong perception that the better teachers are needed in higher levels of education while the worst are sent to primary schools. This is harmful as children in their formative years are impressioned by our worst teachers.
e) Facilities:
In spite of the best efforts, there are no adequate funds to build schools, maintain and repair buildings, buy and repair furniture, and provide for other fixed assets required for the educational process.
The issue is further complicated by corrupt officials who pockets part of the allocations budgeted to attend to such needs.
f) Utility of Knowledge:
Society is beginning to question the utility of the kind of knowledge provided in schools. Most secondary and university graduates do no have employable skills. In fact, many simply are unable to even read and write.
The reasons are:
i. Incompatibility of the syllabus with changing market demands. The syllabus is dominated by theoretical aspects of the humanities as compared to lack of stress on applied or practical fields.
ii. Unrepresentative examination methods and grading system which still focus on measuring how much is memorized by the students rather than creating wide behavioral changes, that lead to positive attitudes.
iii. Inefficiency of educational administration at schools and the ministry, and the absence of standards for achievements. Thus, selection, appointment and promotion of employees are based on whims and nepotism.
iv. Scarcity of teaching material such as laboratories, workshops, educational aids, etc.
v. The rapid expansion of university education without taking in consideration the development needs, which led to repetitiveness of fields of specialization in universities and colleges.
vi. Domination of traditional ways and approaches to education in schools and universities producing negligible research and low achievers.
Finally, let us consider suggestions which will help reform the educational process. These suggestions are as follows:
1. To continue expansion of basic education, which should have priority over other levels, since it forms the base, and it is a constitutional right guaranteed to every child.
2. Diversification of secondary education, by creating a balance in all its types, and by improving the curricula. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training is now pushing for a meaningful transformation of vocational and technical secondary education. They should be supported.
3. Clarity of vision regarding higher education, in terms of what we expect of it. We have to review the specializations in our colleges and determine requirements of majors according to society needs and modern development.
4. Clarity of vision regarding adult literacy programs. It is not enough to simply say that we want those who have missed out on education to get another chance. It is important to rationalize why this is important and how society and the individuals will benefit.
5. Re-organizing government and private education by issuing strong laws, and providing the necessary conditions for re-aligning the educational process.
6. Training and re-training of administrative and teaching staff and choosing those who exhibit leadership qualities.