Illiteracy crises and growth [Archives:2006/981/Business & Economy]

September 14 2006

By: Raidan Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf
[email protected]

Unfamiliarity with Yemen's economic achievements gives validity to the assumption Yemen has no significant achievements leading toward a positive and sustainable economic development pattern; Yemen has no single industry worthy of being considered as a comparative advantage for the country. Even the agriculture industry, the prime employer, is suffering from outdated irrigation techniques and a water crises indicating the industry is at a great risk.

The newfound wealth of the country's extractive industries, such as oil & gas, have little to show in the microeconomic development of the country, The Economist Intelligence Unit expects economic growth in 2006-07 to average around 2.4 percent and far below the minimum of 7 percent needed for sustainable economic growth.

The gloomy picture of Yemen's economy has been interrupted by a simple decision to make primary education free to all pupils in the country for the first three grades or primary education, and for girls to the sixth grade. This move is big news because the consequences of such a policy would not only be beneficial for Saleh's elections campaign, but such a policy might be a first step in Yemen's journey out of poverty.

The problem of Yemen's illiteracy is huge, and any Yemeni who can read should be considered lucky because literacy can create opportunities to bring broader economic and social progress in the country. Billions of riyals are spent in order to reduce the social divide between the literate and the illiterate through mass educational programs, but what is holding Yemen's progress back?

The failure of education in reducing this social divide and opportunities for progress between the literate and illiterate indicates Yemen's policymakers are succeeding in keeping most of the population illiterate, as the adult illiteracy reaches 50 perent of the population and school enrollment is as low as 37 percent in governorates such as Al-Jawf, and only half complete their primary education.

These facts raise damning suspicions on what Yemen's policymakers are more concerned with, While quality education is the single greatest asset a government can give it's people, it took the government of Yemen ages to grant pupils free basic education at least for the first three grades of schooling, but hopefully the trend will continue in facilitating schooling for more pupils and in turn more economic and social opportunities in the future. That is the least a government can do for its people.