Private Schools Between Goals and Reality [Archives:2001/33/Reportage]

August 13 2001

Abdulaziz Ahmed Attobbai 
It cannot be denied that no civilization can flourish without development, and no development can exist without proper education. We need to confine ourselves to school education. It started as pure public education till 1990 when four private schools were set up and accredited by the Ministry of Education The idea in establishing those schools was to target foreign students and to provide ideal education. The Ministry used to provide them with money and teachers (hired and nationals) in order to present an example of improved education. 
In 1990, year of the Yemeni unification, private schools were established and hailed by official authorities as a legal investment in the field of education in order to meet the increasing number of students and to boost educational quality by introducing competition among educational institutions. 
Since 1997, the number of private schools has increased so sharply that it now outnumbers public schools in the capital Sana’a which counts more than 127 private school. This fact makes us question ourselves about the role of such schools, their qualifications, licenses, buildings and teaching staff? 
To gain knowledge on this issue, we decided to meet officials at the Education Office, schools headmasters, and some university professors whose views greatly helped us. 
First, we met with Mr. Hameed Hameed Shater, the Director of the Administration of Private Education, who gave us an overview of the conditions of establishing a private school: Law No. 11 of 1999, article No. 12 provides that the investor who wants to establish a private school must present a thorough project to the ministry highlighting the following: 
– goals of the project 
– plans of the project (economic, social and educational) 
– Sources of project funding 
– Fees tariffs 
– Terms of students admission (those worked out by the ministry) 
– Capacity of the building and classes to be specified/fixed by Project Sector (any additional building to be evaluated like the previous ones); 
– Teaching language and educational methods. 
In his reply to the question whether all private schools are in accordance with the conditions of this law, Shater says: “Certainly. There are some schools though which do not agree with the conditions to be respected, but they have been licensed before the law was implemented and even before the existence of the Administration of Private Education. Our task is to present our suggestions in order to improve the situation of these schools. There are only three private schools in the Republic which are yet without licenses, and they are under our supervision.” 
No Field Visits 
One of the important factor of successful education is the principle of sending occasionally field inspectors to schools in order to evaluate schools and teachers’ performance. In this regard, Shater says: “Sending inspectors to private schools is currently materially impossible. Only when it is possible for us, we visit some schools as we did on our own initiative before final exams. We do not ask the Inspection Sector to include private school to their inspection, as they say that they do not even have enough funding to inspect public schools. As a result, visits to private schools are much too rare.”About curriculums taught in these schools, he stresses out that they are coming from the Ministry of Education. Any additional curriculums are to be referred to the Curriculum Sector and to be examined by a Committee before any approval. 
Then, we interviewed Ms. Amat Al-Kareem Abdulqader, the headmistress of Yemen Modern School, who said that a complete study had been carried out when starting the school. It described the main goals, highlighted the way of selecting curriculums, and was then presented to the Ministry of Education. Based on this and on the information given on teachers’ qualifications, the school was licensed. 
Assaulting Teachers 
Cases of assaulting teachers by students recently appeared in private schools. On this issue, she states, “I think that both teachers and school administration must be blamed for any assault occurring at school. A student might indeed be undisciplined but he is always under the influence of his teachers and the administration. 
I do think that a student reaches such a situation if he does not receive his educational right properly or if the administration and the teachers are too lenient with him. In class, the teacher has to impose his personality and the students must respect his teacher and abide by school rules as he is coming for study.” 
About the procedures to be taken in such cases, Amat Al-Kareem says, 
“The student must without any delay be suspended from classes till this matter is investigated and clarified. In any case, the student is wrong as he showed disrespect to his teacher. If his misbehavior is confirmed, he must be expelled from school.” 

Undeserved Passing 
One of the common phenomena in Yemeni private schools is making pass a student who failed in order to avoid his/her transfer to another private school. Students do not care anymore about examinations as they are influenced by the idea ‘you pay, you pass’. Success rate in these schools is usually above 90% while much lower in public schools. In this regard, she underscores, “It is a regrettable fact that such things happen at schools in the Republic of Yemen. A school is supposed to take part in improving the level of national education and not making it worse. Such schools should not exits at all … our goals is to upgrade education quality not to make profits. I know that there are such instances in some school.But a student has to be evaluated only by his teachers without any interference from the school administration. 
‘There are some cases,’ she adds, ‘in which the administration should find itself involved with students issues such as dealing with a psychological crisis, rather than giving high marks. Primary school differ from secondary school as student in that stage does not conceive what is his/her duties and rights.” 
We also met with Mr. Ahmed Al-Makrami, vice-headmaster of Al-Andalus School, and asked him about teachers selection. He told us, “We invite some inspectors from the Education Office and present them our teachers individually.. Their oral and writing capacities are then checked carefully.”About the coordination between the Ministry and schools, he underlines, “Private school is like any public school, what is good in private school is that curriculums are fully taught. There is a coordination between schools and the educational authorities, but it is limited to one or two visits a year. 
Molesting and Slow Learning 
Afterwards, we met with Mr. Abdullah Al-Maktari, French teacher in a private school, and asked for his opinion about the way students are dealing with their teachers in private and public school. According to him, “There is difference. In private schools, a student is always under close supervision contrary to public education. But, in both systems, the teacher is respected as he is a preceptor for his students. Therefore, if a student shows his teacher disrespect, this is his fault.”About the increase in assaulting of teachers, he points out, “They increased because of a lack of strict and sever punishment by the Ministry. I think that any student who molests his teacher must be turned down by the school which should make sure that he will not be accepted by any other Yemeni school. One more important reason to this issue is the age difference between students. Some find themselves older than their classmates and they want to become a prominent member of the class by defying teacher’s orders or assaulting them. These students are older as they are less gifted than the others and learn slowly. In other countries, such older students are taken to technical or vocational sections where they may succeed. 
No Student Fails 
We met also with one student of a private school, M. Al-Shara’abi, who says that some of his classmates pass every year even though they are bad students. “If a student fails,” he adds, “he or she is to be re-examined once or more till they finally pass.”Social Discrimination/ Selection 
Dr. Fuad Abduljaleel Al-Salahi, assistant professor of socio-political science at Sana’a University, has his own appreciation of private education: 
“Education is one of the important factors of modernism in society. Its importance comes out in its role of qualifying individuals and building up their abilities in terms of knowledge, culture, profession and other skills related to human development. 
The private sector has to take its part in improving and enlarging educational institutions in order to meet the increasing number of student as official education is weakening or suffering from inefficiency. Private education, therefore, must be subjected to the law of public education as for its curriculums, buildings and methods of teaching. It must also not be limited to the higher class as it is now. If we call upon private sector to take part in supporting education and building schools and universities, that must be according to rules and regulations fair to the state and society. 
But what is currently happening in private schools and universities is a process that is widening the circle of corruption in all its forms and also deepening the discrimination among social classes. It enables the rich and deprives the middle and poor classes. 
It is worth-mentioning that private education in Yemen is not subjected to the law of public education, which led to corruption practices. All students of this education pass as long as they pay. 
Absence of Censorship 
Dr. Mohammed Nasser Humeid, Linguistics Assistant Professor at Sana’a University made this statement: 
“I think that our misunderstanding of the concept of investment in the field of education is the source of aggravating the problem of what is called ‘private education’. In my opinion, this concept had to be restrained by means of rules and regulations that could keep the balance between the goals of education and investors’ right to get reasonable gain. 
As the current laws and rules are too feeble to be able to solve the equation of the goals of both sides, we don’t have to wonder at the discrepancy between these goals which is created by the influence of self-interests and personal moods. 
There are only a few who could convince the public that they own qualifications able to produce distinctive educational outputs on one hand and could achieve gains not less than that of other schools on the other hand. 
But there are, on the opposite side, so many who have nothing to do with education but buildings they call ‘private schools’ which are mere shops and stores valid for nothing but storing undcayable goods. 
The real misery which makes this fact with its pains pardonable is the interest of some parents to bring their children to such places caring about nothing but p[ass which is already guaranteed by their money. 
That is my summary of the problem and to summarize the reason: 
In the absence of the role of censorship of Ministry of Education and the absence of correct relation between the Ministry and private schools, the trouble has appeared and apartments of private teaching have started to exist. 
And that’s why we hear of painfully staggering facts. We have heard of a story which relates that some invigilators at one of the examination centers have been pleased to know that some students of a private school would be taking their exams at their center. You might be staggered to knew that the source of their pleasure was that the swap of cheating for money would be easier!