Secondary exam results announced by the Ministry of Education:Disappointing statistics [Archives:2004/766/Community]

August 23 2004

By Walid Al-Saqqaf
Yemen Times Staff

Sanaa, August 22nd – The Secondary school examination results announced last Saturday by the Supreme Examinations Committee revealed that the overall performance of Yemeni students has continued to decline, with just over 67% of students registered for examinations achieving a pass. This means that one third of students actually failed and will have to repeat the exams to graduate. This number has caused concern in the Ministry of Education, and has resulted in consensus of opinion in the grave need for reformation to enhance overall educational standards.
The number of students who applied for examinations was around 188,000 of which around 22,000 were absent. Among the roughly 166,000 students, just over 126,000 passed the exams. Of those who passed, a majority attained low marks of below 80%. Hence, it is expected that most of this year's graduates will not be able to enroll into local universities.
According to Dr. Jalal Faqirah, who is working for the Ministry of Higher Education, with such low grades, only a fraction of this year's graduates would probably be accepted into local universities. “Unfortunately, most of this year's secondary school graduates may find it difficult if not impossible to get a seat in local public universities. Perhaps, they could enroll in private universities which can accept lower rates, but are also much more expensive.” he said.
Dr. Faqirah had mentioned that Sana'a University is already overcrowded and cannot accept many more students. “Sana'a University already has around 85,000 students enrolled in 19 faculties throughout the Republic of Yemen. In the last three years, the number of students accepted into the Faculty of Commerce for instance has declined from 2,000 to 1,200. The Higher Council of Universities is the body that decides the number of students to be accepted and the acceptable grades, and I believe that they will probably raise the grade required to enroll in Sana'a University further.”
I believe that the best alternative for most of this year's graduates would either enroll in community colleges, which should be encouraged and supported, or in vocational training institutes, such as the Technical School.” he added.
Observers concerned with education in Yemen believe that the statistics declared are disappointing and show that the educational standards in the country are falling.
Being one of the countries with the lowest literacy rates in the world, officials at the ministry of education argue that Yemen simply cannot ignore the dangerous signs of such examination outcomes and must work hard to identify the factors that led to such poor results.
In the meantime, other academics believe that a declining educational standard will have a directly negative influence on the country's economic and social standing.
“We need to stop this deterioration, which could eventually lead to a generation of semi-literate youth that would contribute negatively to the country's development” said Mohamed bin Sallam, father of Bakeel, who was surprised to find a grade of 61% in his examination results sheet.
“Unqualified teachers, inadequate teaching facilities, overcrowded classrooms, outdated curricula, and improper exam questions were all reasons behind my son's low scores. I have been told that with such a low score, my son may have to find a seat in a public school far away from Sana'a, perhaps in a remote village in Mareb or elsewhere. I believe the future of my son is at stake.” he complained.
According to Mr. Sallam, the weak examination results indicate lack of strategic reform in the educational sector.
“With the current low quality in terms of human resources, curricula, and educational facilities in public schools, such results are not surprising. In fact, I thought that the number of students who failed would be even more. But what counts here is the quality of the education of our youth, rather than the number of those who passed the exams. Only then can we be assured that our country can progress with ease,” he added.

A crisis in teachers
Sana'a University Associate Professor Dr. Ramakanta Sahu, who is currently among the senior instructors of the Faculty of Education focused on the need to establish a stronger and more qualified cadre for preparatory and secondary classes. “It is essential to train and qualify current teachers teaching in secondary and preparatory classes to achieve better overall performance in our schools.” he said.
“The poor quality of teachers has a tremendous impact on students, which will consequently result in negative standard of education and knowledge throughout the country. In other words, that means we will have less people enrolling in universities, and less people training in technical and vocational institutes. This would consequently produce less skillful workers, engineers, doctors, etc. who would find it difficult to be accepted in good jobs, and would eventually result in more unemployed youth.”
Dr. Jalal Faqirah of the Ministry of Higher Education, said that teachers need to receive extensive and adequate training to cope with the growing demands of this era. “The Ministry of Education's capabilities are very weak. Much work is needed to expand and enhance the quality of education. Even though the Ministry of Education annually receives up to 20% of the overall national budget, it is still not enough to help bring out the country from its educational stagnancy.” he said.
“I remember in our days, we used to complain about having 40 students in one class. Today, you can easily find public schools with 100 plus students in the same room, some without even chairs to sit on.”

Unemployment fears on the rise
Economic experts have always directly linked educational standards with human resources. In other words, the better the educational quality of a country, the more probable that it would have a productive and skillful workforce. Hence, based on the statistics described, it is expected that Yemen's already high unemployment rate of 40% would rise further, causing a complete standstill to Yemen's already poorly performing economy.
Another concern for the government is the worrying sign of more successful female students relative to successful male students. Taking into account the socially conservative national outlook of Yemen, it is predicted that many successful females will not work, whilst unsuccessful males would still have to earn a living and be the providers for their family.
The strong performance of female students can be justified, says Dr. Faqirah. “Female students are less distracted from their studies and tend to stay at home more often than boys. I believe that the main factors behind the weak exam results of male students is their inability to focus on their studies due to the increasing disruption caused by the poor economic conditions that force boys to work after school. In many cases, the inefficient use of the Internet and the wide variety of satellite TV channels are also reasons for such poor performance.” he said.
Mr. Faqirah added that the government can and should expand educational establishments to become more diverse in the courses they offer, and update the curricula to include up-to-date information that would enable students to better cope with the demands of life after graduation.

Future at stake
Human development experts believe that Yemen's major concern for the coming 50 years should, first and foremost, be education. In a recent statement of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, he also endorsed this opinion focusing on the need to raise the quality of education rather than the number of students enrolling in universities and institutions.
Donors in Yemen have been quite keen to concentrate on education as well. According to the Accessible Information on Development Activities (AiDA), education is the second sector in terms of the number of donor projects after agriculture. Hundreds of projects in education have been implemented or are being carried out. The current top five donors are Netherlands, Japan, United States, World Bank, and the United Kingdom. Those countries have been focusing on education in the construction of schools, implementing education expansion projects, rehabilitating institutes, and giving training to teachers. However, the demands of the country have increased tremendously in the recent years due to the solid 3.7% annual population growth, which had implications on all aspects of life.
The country will continue to suffer from poor educational standards for many years to come, and this will have a negative impact on a whole generation, which may suffer from illiteracy at a time when students of the rest of the world are targeting computer literacy or literacy in a second language.
Yemen still has a long way to go in terms of development, and there is no doubt that educational stands must be the number one priority for that to happen.