The Fight Against Illiteracy: Yemen’s Road to Prosperity [Archives:1999/06/Culture]

February 8 1999

It is a known fact that education is a key factor in development and change. It is the main vehicle towards a more glorious tomorrow in any society. In other words, the more a society is educated, the easier and quicker it is to achieve social, economic and political progress.
It becomes a means to building a new social structure. So, combating illiteracy in a society means modernizing its whole structure and burying poverty. This is because it is very difficult for an illiterate society to accept or interact with any efforts for change. Therefore, it is a must for any society to fight against illiteracy to achieve prosperity and welfare for its people.
Illiteracy versus Progress
Over 30 years passed since the Yemeni revolution. Still, the number of illiterate people in the society is staggeringly estimated at around 85%. So, what has been done during this time is very little. In these years, wonders could have been done to eradicate illiteracy or at least reduce its rate. Many countries could do a lot in this field in a very short time.
It is noticeable that the campaign launched against illiteracy in Yemen was active in the 1980s. Many centers for this purpose were opened all over the country including rural areas. But, they began to gradually disappear in some areas. They are now closed down. In fact, they are available only in the government payrolls while in reality some centers are not really there. But they are not working properly and as they should. A lot of money is wasted while nothing is achieved. It is actually staggering to hear that some of the current centers are phantom. The equipment and appliances of some of these centers disappear. This story is applied to one of these centers in Mawiyah in Taiz where thousands of dollars are wasted.
Illiteracy and Backwardness
Neglect on the part of the people in charge is clearly visible. People in authority are not conscious enough of the danger of illiteracy. Maybe they don’t understand that illiteracy makes society susceptible to all sorts of diseases, poverty and many other evils that hinder development and progress. The most important task for the government is to enlighten the minds of the people. It is only in this case that a real change or new life can be breathed into the society.
I wonder! How would we be able to move into the 21st century with such a heavy burden of backwardness, poverty and fragile infrastructure? While the advanced world is doing its best to minimize computer illiteracy among its masses, we are not even able to teach our people how to read and write.
It is quite natural that humanity goes hand in hand with advancement and modernization. To make things short, as history moves forwards, people get more and more advanced and their conditions get better. But for us the case is different.
We move backward. The more the western world is advancing and developing, the more we are getting poorer, illiterate and in worse situations. While they are going faster towards the new age of information, knowledge and revolutionary technology, we are not even able to crawl. Backwardness is riding high.
The UN human development report of 1998 put Yemen in the 152 place in a list of 202 countries around the world. Around 15% of the Yemeni population are afflicted by hepatitis B. Over 6,000 Yemenis die every month from malaria, dysentery, respiratory diseases, typhoid. The list can go on. So, this is a pointer of deteriorating conditions.
In seeking the basic reasons, one can not forget illiteracy. It really hurts the situation a lot. This is because when the majority of society is illiterate, they become oblivious and answer of their health, food…etc. They are entirely different in their future outlook. This should not be understood as a critical attitude. Rather it is the truth.
Observing our living conditions in the 1980s, one can see the difference. it seems that we always like to be ‘exceptional’ and ‘extraordinary? Why? I don’t intend to say illiteracy is the only reason behind our constant deterioration. Rather, it is one of the main stumbling blocks and obstacles in the way of any development and change. Therefore, unless we do something to minimize the number of illiterate people, our plans for the future will move erratically.
Illiterate Educated
It is not only that. Even some of the educated persons who have joined schools and universities can be labeled as illiterate educated. Some educators see our universities today as a mere center for removing the illiteracy of the educated.
To put it in another way, students of schools and graduates of universities have not been given proper education that qualifies them for the job market or even for their personal lives. Some of our university students make horrible mistakes or errors in spelling, grammar or sentence structure which can not be made by a student in elementary school, who has received good school education.
Just a visit to any school, especially in far-off rural areas, is enough to tell much of the plight of education in Yemen. We are proud of having millions of students but we have forgotten their proficiency and skills. In reality, only a select few are qualified to be called students. Some of them are still illiterate. So, does this mean that even in this we are ‘exceptional’ for we have two kinds of illiteracy?
The people in charge should pay more attention to the question of education. Otherwise, the current situation will lead to more destructive damage. Can we stop it before it gets out of hand? I think that we still have time!
Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi,
Taiz Office Editor,
Yemen Times.