Poor education for Yemeni girls [Archives:2005/851/Reportage]

June 16 2005

Hassan Al-Zaidi
Education is one of the most vital prerequisites to the descent life. It is an important factor and an indispensable requirement for the achievement of purposeful goals and realizing human development. All heavenly religions, as well as constitutions and man-made laws, encourage people, both men and women from all social classes to learn.

The right to education is of the main rights ensured by all regional and international conventions and pacts let alone national constitutions. The State is responsible for providing education free for all. Despite the fact that the educational sector, especially at the basic level, is plodding through problems particularly in the rural areas, what raises fears is the increasing gap in the quality of girls education compared to boys, as 50% of the girls are somehow prevented from joining schools and many of the females students drop out.

This article intends to investigate the current status of Yemeni education in general and girls' education in particular.

Big projects but below-par output:

We may admit that the government focused on the primary and secondary educational sector over the previous years. This is shown by the large number of schooling projects and buildings and the rise in expenditure on education from the State's general budget.

The budget allotted some YR 136 billion for education, an amount representing 20% of the budget. The number of primary and secondary schools hit the mark of 14,800 built all over the country hosting about five million students.

Perhaps, the heavy demand on these schools accompanied by the unsatisfactory management of the educational management during the previous years as well as the low-level performance has led up to poor acquisition and to many students opting out from schools, especially girls.

According to statistics, the number of primary education graders rose from less than one million male and female students in 1990 to over 4 million in 2004 of which 1.6 million were girls. Number of teachers in public schools leapt from about 20 thousand in 1990 to about 174 thousand male and female teachers.

The rise in the number of teachers and projects indicates a parallel rise in the general expenditure but has not ensured quality education.

“We must admit that there are problems that face the educational process,” said the Minister of Education Dr. Abdul-Salam al-Jawfi. “there are still shortcomings and we can say that we have addressed many major problems especially the Ministry's burdens following the merging of scientific institutes with the public schools.

“Since the beginning of 2005, a complete integrated school curriculum has been available. They are written by experts according to respected scientific rules. We produce some 53 million copies annually and are distributed to Yemeni schools. The Ministry also produces about one thousand chairs to be distributed on schools. We are trying to improve the quality of teaching. Last year, for example, we purchased one thousand school labs and implemented a training program involving about 63 thousand male and female teachers and 7000 headmasters and deputies.

“We are aware that education is still suffering from various troubles and know that girls' education do not live up to the desired level. However, we set up plans and programs according to our means and got support to the tune of $250 in order to improve and develop education. This is a foreign support in addition to general budget allotments.”

He continued, “Now, we have plans for five and even ten years ahead. In the past we did not know what would come tomorrow.

“A new sector for girls' education and training was established and around $60 million was spent to implement training programs over the coming five years. We have restructured the Ministry in accordance with the Local Authority Law and the new trends.”

Dr. Fawzia Noaman, Deputy Ministry of Education for Girl Education Sector, said, “We have a problem regarding girls' education. A wide gap separates the number of girls at school and that of boys particularly in the rural areas. We should face it up and cope with it realistically. All people should cooperate to deal with it.

“What we should do is to set up a family seasonal map to know the times when students absent themselves from schools so as to adjust the school day accordingly.

She described the inability of some families to provide their girls with school uniform. “Sometimes, a girl may wait for her sister until she comes back from school in order to put on the only uniform.” She called on the men of charity to show social solidarity.

Abdul-Rahman al-Muneefi, Manager of Ministry's Girl Education Program said, “There are positive indicators about girls' education in Yemen as they account for 30% of the students. Our program works on constructing schools for girls, and school medical facilities. We try to ensure that girls' schools are easily accessible via roads. Our problem lies in scattered population. But there is certainly a political orientation towards support and expansion of girls' education.

“At present, there are many problems ahead of us such as the low percentage of girls joining schools in some areas and girls dropping from primary education due to many reasons.”

Jarallah Naji, Director of Sirwah Education Office, said that there are a number of factors most important of which are the distribution of schools, far schools in most rural areas and the shortage in the number of teachers. All these factors, and many others, have contributed to low girl participation in schooling.”

During our survey, we found that some rural schools were built of thatches and chairs are made by the locals themselves. The rate of girl students were high. This is a remarkable situation. Yet, if the Ministry of Education equips these schools and provide the necessary requirements, schooling would continue in a good manner.

“Girls should assert themselves,” said Dr. Su'ad al-Sab', professor at Sana'a University. “We have to deepen girls' awareness regarding the importance of its completing schooling. Girls are looking at their education as a gain that they strove to get and they must, therefore, assert themselves. They should continue to study even if they are wives, mothers or workers. Girls have to bear the responsibility for the sake of knowledge.”

There are bright examples that should illuminate the way of girls: it is a fact that the majority of third secondary school toppers where girls both in the literary and scientific sections. In the scholastic year 2003-2004, girls got some 16 seats among the total amount of 26 pioneering student seats in the scientific section and 18 girls occupied 22 seats in the literary section.

Concerning staying the course of education, we find that they are progressing. In 1970, Sana'a University received 64 students among whom were only four girls. However the number rose to 512 in 1994. Later, about 16869 girls applied to Sana'a University and 3341 of them were granted admission.

It is known that girls have entered areas used to be limited to men such as vocational training and technical education. The number of girls reached 737 in this area. Another area is security. About 300 girls were on the lists of 2005 Woman Police School.

However, these figures do not mean that we have reached the required level. A gap is still there. But we have to build and equip educational facilities for girls and disadvantaged categories to join them and continue their basic education.

Girls' education raises family income six times

Dr. Ra'oofah Hassan curtly said, “All families and people who are going through financial problems must know that if girls are educated, family income would multiply six times. It is not me who claim this. It is according to world Bank's studies and statistics.”

Mrs. Salwa Damaj, a demonstrator at Sana'a University, stated that illiteracy is spreading all over the country. “This is alarming as it increases the poverty level. The majority of illiterates are women. Decision-makers ought to take serious steps to expand education especially in the rural areas. The Ministry of Education must do its duty preparing annual statistics on the number of girls opting out from schools and the reasons behind that and prescribe ways of treatment. Clerics and preachers have also to encourage people to let girls continue their education.”


These are calls from women who once were school girls, but now they are leaders and university teachers. They are ideals in whose footsteps other girls should follow.

Girls have to realize that marriage is a necessity but education has the priority. The Ministry should fairly distribute the schools of both girls and boys in different places in the country. We should disseminate awareness on the importance of girls continuing their education.

We have to struggle to change some wrong social concepts starting with those in the mind of female students themselves, planting concepts that promote their desire for education. This may be done through organized awareness campaigns conducted in classrooms and schools. The Ministry of Education's Information Sector has to play its role in this issue. The Ministry has to set up specialized committees to study the cases of absentees and remove hindrances.

There are positive indicators of girl basic education in the rural areas but they face a real obstruction to tackle their secondary education. The concerned authorities have to find out solutions.