Why a national strategy for honesty and clarity for Yemeni education? [Archives:2007/1078/Opinion]

August 20 2007

By: Shaker Lashuel
It takes a conversation with young Yemeni students to realize that primary education in Yemen is in critical condition or a discussion with a college graduate to reveal how deficient and lacking higher education is. This is certainly not a scientific way to measure a country's quality of education, but when the evidence is so obvious it is hard to ignore. The issues plaguing education are also clear to both educational experts and the common man who see that both the process and the product of this system can not meet the demand of an evolving global market. Yemeni college graduates do not even meet the demands of the local market. Employers in Yemen often find university graduates deficient in writing and communication skills, some can not even write a simple job application letter, or fill out a simple form.

A recent article published in Yemen Times by Dr. Abdulaziz Bin Habtour and titled “Why the National Strategy for Secondary Education?” provoked me to question the honesty of communication taking place between government officials and Yemeni citizens. The article is a glaring reflection of why the problems in Yemen continue to get worse. Dr. Bin Habtour repeatedly cites the few accomplishments of Yemen's unity government in the field of education throughout his article; he wrote that the government has “unified the school syllabuses, merged schools and institutes (Ma'ahid), increased the number of schools, and boosted girl's education.” These statements mask a reality few can deny. Every educator in Yemen knows that the quality of education dropped drastically in the 1990s, and the “accomplishments” are minimal at best. Drumming accomplishments without giving a clear context and providing an accurate account of success and failures is misleading. Are these accomplishments even relevant in the face of what Yemenis have to deal with in a changing economy that is increasingly reliant on more sophisticated college graduates? Is the Yemeni educational system responsive to the needs of an economy that requires diversity and creativity to allow people not only to sustain themselves minimally but to flourish?

What is bothersome about this article is that it is an expression of how government officials address issues in the Yemeni public arena. They gloss over the problems and highlight and magnify the selected accomplishments. The reports read differently when they are presented to the World Bank and other funding agencies and bodies. They often contain many tables and charts, reflect an oblique reality and highlight ambitious plans. A report submitted to the World Bank six years ago, allows us to sit and assess objectively how much has been done? The report which can be found at


admits that “most previous efforts to reform and improve basic education in Yemen were not as successful as had been hoped for due to a variety of reasons.” It goes on to acknowledge that “There was a lack of scientific research and methodology, which resulted in schools without children and children without schools. ” The report blames central planning for having “led to disconnected efforts from the needs of the targeted groups.” It concluded that “bureaucratic centralism slowed implementation, lacked flexibility to adapt to field developments, and increased costs.” This is the honesty that we find missing in governmental communication with the common people of Yemen through a media whose purpose is to gain favors and seeking to do the “right thing.”

Wishfully, in 2007, I want to read about Yemen's accomplishments beyond unifying schools and institutes which was a political decision with an educational impact. I seek to know what Yemen has done to increase the enrollment rate of students in primary education. Has the enrollment reached 80% by 2005 as the country plan six years ago proposed? Has the government built 14,235 additional classrooms for grades 1-6 to help meet the Universal Primary Education Goal by 2015? Has Yemen added 25,223 more qualified teachers for basic education? Is the rate of girls' enrollment up to 73% yet? Does the country have more female teachers in rural areas? What about special needs children, has the government created special schools and curricula for them? Are the educational resources distributed equitably among governorates?

In 2002, while I was in Yemen I was impressed with a science text book curriculum that was different from the one I used as a student many years before. The book emphasized research-based, hands-on and critical thinking approach to learning science which was excellent. When I interviewed a science teacher about the book I realized that he was not ready to teach using this approach, has he and the other 24,250 teachers received in-service training to help them teach the new curricula? Do the science teachers have the resources and materials needed to implement the modern science curricula?

Many of these objectives were included in proposal cited and Dr. Abdulaziz Bin Habtour was one of its authors and I wish he used some of those objectives as real measures to highlight accomplishments rather than focus on the political ones.

In another report titled the “Educational Denoters in the Republic of Yemen” for the year 2002-2003 and published in August of 2004, many facts were clearly outlined. Based on the report one can ask if high school enrollment increased from the 38% mark? That would have been a quantifiable measure of accomplishment. One wonders about the strides the Ministry of Education has made in addressing the 35% failure and dropout rate of an already small high school population. Yemeni citizens need to know whether the Ministry has improved the distribution and placement of qualified teachers to improve high school education. They deserve the right to know if the exams that are surrounded with “extreme strictness and terror that is full of failure threatening if they student can not remember, retrieve” as report cited, have undergone a complete revaluation. In this day and age, any government ministry official discussing accomplishments in the school system should be expected to show how the government is introducing the use of computers in high school education. Sadly, the article had none of the quantifiable, measurable objectives to communicate any meaningful success or accomplishments.

Respecting Yemeni citizens dictate that government officials address people in a way that reflects their accountability to the population. Government reports to the World Bank and to the other funding agencies and countries are strikingly honest and Yemeni citizens deserve the same refreshing honesty. While the government should be expected to communicate with clarity and accountability, it should also move in an ambitious way to overhaul a system that is antiquated and failing in producing cadre that is ready to meet the needs of both the local and global economy market. Amplifying accomplishments while downplaying real and grave challenges will only further the delusion of government officials and the frustration of Yemen's citizens.

Shaker Lashuel is a Yemeni-American freelance writer based in New York. He is also the Public Relations Coordinator for the American Association of Yemeni Scientists and Professionals.