Sameer Mohammed Abdulhaq: “The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.” [Archives:1998/18/Interview]

May 4 1998

Mr. Sameer Abdulhaq is a senior specialist for studies, research and translation at the Prime Minister’s Office. With a long and rich experience in teaching, Mr. Abdulhaq also works as a teacher at the Military Languages Institute, the National Institute for Administrative Sciences, and at Sanaa University.
Finally, Mr. Abdulhaq, who holds a BA in Intgernational Relations from pakistan, is the public relations officer at the Yemeni-British Friendship Association and the Society for the Protection of Beaches, Parks and Antiquities. He is also heavily involved in a lot of voluntary activities.
Dr. Salah Haddash, Yemen Time Managing Editor, talked to Mr. Abdulhaq about the pros and cons of English-language teaching in Yemen.
Q: Are the English language school books adopted by Yemeni schools suitable for the purpose for which they are intended?
A: For all intents and purposes, the English language books and curricula adopted in Yemen are suitable, in terms of their content and presentation. It is very important, though, to emphasize the necessity for using teaching aids such as films, slides, audio tapes, maps, and computers. Students should also be encouraged to read publications in English.
Teaching aids are an integral part of the education process and an important element in the success of the teaching strategy. They are certainly not a means of recreation or entertainment, as some people unfortunately believe. Research has shown that using teaching aids is a crucial factor in attracting students to the subject. Their stimulating and unusual nature makes them the best method of relating the subject matter to the students with the maximum comprehension. Teaching aids are essential for overcoming the outdated mode of teaching employed by many teachers, which relies on passivity and memorization. It is essential for making more creative and intelligent students.
Q: How do you evaluate the level of English teachers in Yemen?
A: A teacher of English, like any other teacher in Yemen, follows the curriculum specified by the Ministry of Education and the general guidelines put by school inspectors.
The variation in performance among teachers or in the achievements of students can be attributed to difference in the available resources or the individual efforts made by teachers and students alike. A university teacher, say, has more authority and independence in determining the topics.
Q: What are the recent advances in English teaching methods and curricula? To what extent can they be adopted in Yemen?
A: Teaching institutions of all levels must adopt modern methods. New communications methods and teaching strategies have entered the educational systems in many countries. Unfortunately, we are still using conventional methods not only in English, but also in other subjects.
Completely different results can be achieved if advanced teaching techniques are employed, especially audio-visual technology. Then good results would be observed in terms of comprehension and academic achievements.
Generally speaking, teacher-student communication in state-owned schools is lacking, which negatively affects the degree of the students’ comprehension. Teaching is often done in overcrowded classrooms with a marked lack of communication and practical demonstrations. It is very important to adopt modern methods to motivate the learners, especially in the primary education levels.
Reliance on the school book will remain quite important as it is the primary source of education. Employing teaching aids requires financial resources that may not be available for state-owned schools at the moment, but they can be gradually introduced into the Yemeni public education system.
Q: What are then the more immediate means needed to develop English learning in Yemen?
A: The school curriculum now contains various fields of knowledge and a good diversity of topics that are required for a successful learning process. But the methods of teaching and the presentation of the subject matter are in need of changing and development.
The Ministry of Education can adopt a phase-by-phase strategy to be implemented according to the availability of resources. Then the following steps can be taken according to the determined priorities.
– Preparing the means
– Formulating the action plan
– Evaluation
– Follow-up
Some private schools and institutes in Yemen are trying to adopt just these methods, assisted by the fact that they do not have to strictly adhere to a pre-determined text. They also have ample financial resources to obtain the necessary and most modern teaching aids.
In addition to introducing English language laboratories, some private schools in Yemen are also employing field trips to allow their students to gain on-the-spot knowledge and learning.
Q: How do you evaluate the capabilities of English language teachers in Yemen?
A: This is a very sensitive subjects. People at the Ministry of Education are qualified to carefully choose competent teachers according to high academic standards.
The teachers should be assigned their posts in the various schools according to their qualifications and experience. With the proper evaluation, good results can be achieved in helping the students get the most possible benefit from the educational process.
The primary levels of education must get the most attention. It is no exaggeration to say that this level requires linguists, not the fresh secondary-school graduates who are employed to teach in our schools. The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.
The main flaw in our primary and secondary education systems lies in the not choosing suitably qualified teachers. The outcome is a chronic weakness in the students’ levels and a deficiency in their understanding of the English language, which afflicts them well into their university studies. It can frustrate their wishes to study science, medicine or any other subject taught in English, for example. The deficiency in a person’s knowledge of English can even become a big obstacle in his or her professional life.
The flaws in teaching English is also responsible for the visible dislike of the language among school children, despite its extreme importance for scientific attainment and professional knowledge.
Q: As an educator, what are you doing to help improve the situation?
A: I have written a book for English learners, which is now being printed. It contains learning programs for all levels. There are chapters for explaining and correcting common errors and mistakes that are found in the science and literature departments in many universities and institutes. Part of the book is devoted to explaining some TOEFL questions and other issues related to teaching English at schools.
Q: How can Yemen benefit from the assistance provided by English-speaking donor countries and organizations in developing the teaching of the this language?
A: There is actually a cooperation program, supervised by the Ministry of Planning and Development, aimed at giving courses in English for public employees. There are 33 seats provided annually by the YALI and the British Council. Mr. Adam Erely and Mr. Brendan McSharry are making a lot of efforts to enable people to benefit from this program.
The Yemeni public-service system lacks people with language skills and experience. I believe that our friends at these two institutes will not refrain from providing more seats according to the needs of the public sector.
I also think that universities can also benefit form such cultural cooperation. The British Council, YALI and similar institutes can invite English language specialists to give lectures to university students. Such a move will be a positive step to break the psychological barrier some students have against the English language, create a stronger teacher-student communication and develop more affinity with the language itself.
There is also the possibility of requesting technical assistance to provide secondary schools and universities with audio-visual laboratories and other types of teaching aids.