John Balian to YT: “We are interested in helping Yemen in Educational Reform”Great leap in US cultural and educational programs to Yemen [Archives:2003/643/Culture]

June 19 2003

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
The Public Affairs Section at the US Embassy in Sana'a has expanded a number of cultural and educational programs and scholarships to meet the need of Yemen for these programs. They are also a part of the multi-pronged US-led war on terror. John Balian, Public Affairs Officer, told the Yemen Times in an interview that the section has increased the number of scholarships and programs to meet the needs of the people of Yemen to such programs. Such programs include the Fulbright post doctoral research program. This program is for research and university lecturing in the US. University professors benefit from this not only in doing research or lecturing in the US but in building up contacts with people and institutions there. “We want people to get this opportunity to widen their horizons and to grow intellectually. They bring new methods and ideas to their country. They try new things, introducing new ideas into their profession. It is a very prestigious program as Fulbrighters are selected from a large number of applicants” Mr. Balian said. He points out that the US Embassy has plans to increase such programs as Yemen needs them. “Yemeni institutions need highly qualified professors. We are trying to increase the number so that we can help improve the standards and levels in Yemeni universities” Balian pointed out. There were three post doctoral Fulbrighters last year and the US Embassy is now looking for more qualified people to apply for these scholarships. Mr. Balian said that he conducted visits to some universities to inform them of such opportunities which they did not know about. He said that he and his staff would visit some more universities for the same purpose. He is also planning to visit the Ministries of Education, Higher Studies, and Information to inform them regarding these programs. A very important prerequisite that applicants must have is English as well as a good project that the researcher wants to do in the US. Selection of applicants by a committee is based on this.
The Embassy, through AMIDEAST, also offers scholarships at the master's level, giving Yemenis opportunities to get an American graduate education. The number of scholarships varies from year to year. There were about 15 successful candidates last year. Balian said that the US is trying to increase the number of such scholarships. “My feeling is that where there is a need, there should be more. And there is a need in Yemen. What is important is to have more qualified applicants for these programs” he stressed.

Interest in Yemen's Educational Reform
The US Embassy is also interested in helping to reform the Yemeni educational system. The Public Affairs section is going to hold a big seminar for English teaching reform to improve the level of English teaching at Yemeni schools. The US Embassy is proposing to do this in partnership with the British Council and the Ministry of Education to move “forward in English teaching and in educational reform in general”. Mr. Balian points out that if this workshop becomes a success, other similar seminars will be conducted.
Another program is the Humphrey fellowship. This one-year (non-degree) program is designed for mid-level professionals, combining academic training in an American university and field experience. It can apply to any person in any field. There was one candidate last year and she was successful but the Embassy's Public Diplomacy Section wants more qualified applicants.
The US Embassy currently does not have a Ph.D. fellowship program. When USAID had and active presence in Yemen in past years, it had a Ph.D. program. Now that USAID is back in Yemen, that program might be restarted.

VIP slots Increased
The Embassy has also increased the number of slots for the International Visitor Program (IVP). This program is meant to send applicants in various fields to the US for a 3-week tour. Successful candidates visit different places in the US and meet experts in their areas of interest. Mr. Balian said that the Embassy is trying to send more IVs to the US. “This year we have 30 candidates so far. This is a record for Yemen” he said, pointing out that the number may increase even further.
Another program the US Embassy is starting this year in Yemen is a program for high school students. Students have already been selected to go to the US to study and spend one year there with an American family. This would help establish friendly ties between the US and Yemeni people.
For media people, Mr. Balian said that he has a plan to organize a journalistic writing and photojournalism workshop where professors and journalists would be brought to Yemen to train Yemeni journalists on different media genres. The five best students from the workshop will then be selected to go to the US on a special three-week IV program. Again if this workshop becomes a success, further workshops will be held. Being a journalist who knows what Yemeni journalists need, Balian is also eager to establish a center for training journalists. “There is a real need to improve the level of journalism” he said.
The Public Affairs Section is also planning another important program soon. It includes putting the Internet in some Yemeni high schools in different governorates including Marib. “We will be selecting about 24 schools where we will install Internet classrooms” Balian said. This project will be carried out in cooperation with the Ministries of Education and Communication. A room in each of the selected schools will be accommodated with computers and an Internet connection. Some teachers will be trained to train the students on the use of the Internet and computers. This program will also partner with local and international organizations to implement educational projects through this medium. “This program”, Balian says, “aims to make the high school students computer and internet literate and bring the Yemeni high schools into the 21st century.” Students will be able to establish contacts with each other in Yemen and with counterparts in the US.
Of course, such programs are not far from the fight on terror the US is launching on different fronts and with different means, having long term aims. “When people are educated and have open horizons, they will not become extremists and fundamentalists. The wider the view point the person has, the least likely that person is to go into extremism” Mr. Balian said. Of course, such programs will help Yemenis and Yemen at large to open up to the world.