How Credible is Our Educational System? [Archives:2000/34/Focus]

August 21 2000

By: Hassan Al-Haifi
It is not the intent of this observer to use this column to highlight personal issues faced by the latter, or to take advantage of this commentary to further personal aspirations or ambitions. However, in most developing societies, and even in the most developed ones, one is bound to encounter certain situations that reflect general shortcomings in a system or system which the general public as a whole must deal with and find that in such systems are matters of equity and detriment to the welfare and well being of the general public at large, which are worthy of sharing with that public.
For developing societies, the educational sector represents one of the most significant service sectors, and the way it operates and the results it achieves are often considered the key indicators that will show the progress made in the efforts towards human development and general progress of the society. Thus the sector is, by its nature, has a pivotal role in setting the course for the development of a society, in terms of the output it produces, quantitatively and qualitatively, and in terms of the example it sets for other service functions to follow by its operational standards and procedures. More important, the educational sector also sets the kind of values that we hope will be engrained in the society to produce a healthy society in terms of moral persuasions and ethical standards of conduct.
Finally, the educational sector literally touches every citizen in one way or another, especially in a populous country with about half the population who are of schooling age. Because of the poor awareness on general educational norms that is widespread, one would expect that the educational sector should be applying above standard criteria in all of its operational and procedural systems, thus ensuring that the public is getting the best results from its children, for whom the sector is regarded as a guardian and mentor that makes up for any shortcomings of the parents, in view of this widespread lack of awareness.
The educational system in Yemen suffers from many flaws. In all fairness to the countrys educators, one cannot blame all these flaws on them, as the general state of the country is not fully supportive of an up to standards educational service and the scanty resources that are appropriated for this vital sector in the countrys development efforts are not reflective of the proper attention the sector should be given by development planners and those responsible for the allocation of the available resources of the country accordingly.
On top of that, Yemens educational sector used to enjoy significant foreign and regional support to bolster the sectors growth and general operational needs and the generous amounts of funds and technical support that were once provided a decade ago have since been cancelled due to poor policy decisions of a government without any foresight or long term outlooks on the consequences of its hasty decisions based on emotional or narrow minded implications, that truly fail to take the interest of the country to heart.
Thus with all these circumstances, the observer should proceed with caution in criticizing the state of the educational system in the country, and would be unfair in purely blaming the overseers of the sector for the significant shortfalls of the system.
One of the biggest shortcomings in the general development approach followed by the government, even in times of plenty and availability of resources, has been a notorious disregard for the human resource development of the country. This is especially true of the educational sector, where our high dependence on foreign teachers at the start of the drive towards development, did not trigger a concerted effort to ensure that resources are channeled to ensure that this heavy dependence on foreign personnel, both at the teaching and administrative levels is gradually overcome, with the graduates of the system itself. Yet, we find that the efforts in this respect were minimal, as though our development planners felt that the country would be able to support an indefinite dependence on foreign personnel, thanks to an indefinite availability of funding! In fact, careers in the educational sector were not encouraged due to the lack of incentives and lack of proper career guidance that the system was unable to provide for one reason or another. Furthermore, vested interests had been allowed to set in within the sector that in fact worked against the replacement of foreign personnel hiring by local staff since the gains that were made by these vested interests were going to end, and a strong element of the corruption in the system was to be eliminated over time if the local personnel were allowed to take over the role of foreign staff, with the proper training and incentives. But the sudden stop of the flow of foreign support lead to a drastic reduction of the gains that such vested interests enjoyed and other means of lucrative finagling were needed to replace the appetite of hungry officials who saw no reason that their interests cannot be served by other means accordingly. We shall not go into the detail of the corruption to which the educational system is subjected to, for surely the Central Organization for Control and Auditing has volumes of investigations into this and anyone is able to look further into this, if they so desire.
Nevertheless, getting down to the nitty gritty, we come to the matter of the tests that the Ministry of Education prepares and administers to the students, especially for the secondary school general diploma. Here there is a great example of the inhuman nature that the educational system is characterized by and of the monstrous attitude of the overseers of these exams. For one thing, students are expected to be tested for all the three years of secondary education at the end of a journey as horrible as crossing the Amazon Jungle barehanded. Most modern educational systems usually go on a year to year basis, but three years that is really stretching the intellect too far, for students who have the poorest resources and conveniences of high school students anywhere. On the other hand, students are expected to hand in their completed exams and become subject to the results determined by Ministry appointed correctors, without having any criteria set up to ensure that this work will be done fairly and adequately guided by the highest ethical and professional standards accordingly. Of course, because of the total lack of transparency in the system in general and in the educational sector, in particular, these criteria are either absent or ambiguous and are not free of any questionable conduct, as one judges from the stories related by the students, which are really scary. Even if one should not believe all that is heard, but what is heard is enough to indicate that surely there can be a greater degree of honesty and regard to the laws of equity and fair competition among the students. What happens is that students who generally show significant academic acumen throughout their schooling, all of a sudden loose their status, either because they have fallen apart when taking the exam after so much cramming or because something went wrong during the correction of their exams.
Thus, this observer was taken aback h when finding that my son, who had been a generally high achiever (generally above 90% all along), was hit with a meager 79% total. Why? Because, in one of the subjects, he had been given only 58%. Yet, the boy insisted that the subject was one he had been sure that his result could not go below 85%. There is no reason not to believe that this could have been probably an honest mistake or a typing error, but there is no recourse for the students to appeal such results, because Ministry officials have declared themselves to be omnipotent and trustees that cannot be appealed, or objected to. But the truth of the matter is that there are students who hardly attend classes and yet come out with results that are in the 90s or are passing, when they have never passed the normal exams given throughout their schooling. Before we start hitting our kids for their lack of aptitude, we as parents would like to be assured that we would not be unjust to our kids, because some educators were negligent in carrying out their duties, or were guided by prejudice and mischief rather than fairness and the highest of ethical standards that are expected to be applied in this most important sector. Speaking on behalf of a number of other parents who have echoed some concerns as well as to the authenticity of the results announced, I would urge the Minister of Education to reinstate the right of appeal for the high school examination results, which is a constitutional right in all free and democratic societies. Our further support to education can only come if we are assured that the overseers of the sectors are seriously intent on applying the highest standards of fairness and conduct, when processing the end of a long journey across the Amazon jungle.