Why schooling? An investigation [Archives:2006/987/Business & Economy]

October 5 2006

Raidan Al-Saqqaf
[email protected]

Although half the population of Yemen are children less than 14 years of age, little focus and attention is given to them either through government policies, such as education and childcare programs, or as the community where our children are born and raised. Yemen has one of the worlds highest population growth rates of 3.4 percent, which means the Yemeni population will continue to grow and become a major concern on how the current generations ensure a secure and sustainable future for upcoming generations.

No matter how limited and constrained, efforts to contain the problem of population growth are underway and government policies and plans are formulated with the help of International bodies and NGOs in order to promote the concepts of population growth, social gender and reproductive health, but what about efforts exerted in order to raise mentally and physically healthy infants and knowledgeable children who could become an asset to the country, not a liability.

Fifty years ago, countries such as China and India were warned they would face real catastrophes and mass unemployment and starvation if their population continued to grow to the extent it has grown today, with populations of 1.3 and 1 billion people, what is it that China and India did and how did they do it?

Economics indicate that people have economic value because they can produce output, and the more people you have exerting physical or any sort of labor then economic output would subsequently increase. The simple strategy China and India implemented is a policy of mass qualification; to teach the people how to work.

Understanding that qualification is the key issue, Yemen has an opportunity at hand to create a giant leap forward by adopting a similar policy of mass qualification, starting from kindergarten level towards higher education and vocational training. However, Yemen's educational has flaws within it. YemenTimes took the opportunity to survey opinions on Yemen's educational system and if it can achieve mass qualification for Yemeni children in such a manner that would create a giant leap into the future.

Ms. Jalila S., a kindergarten teacher, said Yemeni children are among the brightest in the world: “Every day I am amazed and inspired how fast some children learn and understand, to the extent that you can have an adult-like conversation with them,” she said. “Unfortunately, very few children have the opportunity to go to a kindergarten which can teach them many things to allow them to make the most of their childhood years.” Saying that at a time when many children especially in rural Yemen start their very first learning at the age of six in primary school.

“This is the most sensitive and critical situation a young child can be put in” says Anees Al-Maini, a primary school teacher; “When the child comes as a clean slate to his first day at school, he or she either fits in or develops a complex with regards to education,” he adds “every child needs to be personally taken care of in order to develop a link with the teacher and the school, while the huge numbers of new students do not permit us to look after the welfare of the children for their education's sake.” Perhaps several privet schools do some sort of orientation for teachers and also for children when they join in, but those are the exception.

Anees also said “Most teachers in public school only come to teach because they have no other job, as being a teacher is at the lower end of career choices in Yemen, and therefore many teachers are simply unqualified enough to shape and lives and minds of young pupils”. From my conversation with Anees, I realized that several fundamental changes need to take place for Yemen's current educational system to become a mass qualification system. The survey went on to the hands of Mr. Emad Adel, who is deputy principle at one of Sana'a private schools, he said “There is huge contrast between the students in secondary schools, while some do have a genuine desire to learn, many others do not see the point of doing their homework or studying for their exams other than the certification and grades, you find many students who have completed their primary school and got good grades, but when you ask them – for example – where is Turkey or Ethiopia, they don't know!”

He also added “It's not the fault of the education system if the students don't want to learn and acquire knowledge; it is the fault of the teachers and parents who don't motivate the children to learn or show them the true value of knowledge There is some truth to what Mr. Emad said; qualification isn't only the result of schooling, it's the result of a number of factors including guidance and commitment.

There are common ideologies and traditions in Yemen which dictate the upbringing of children, however, those ideologies do not necessarily help parents and teachers raise up children committed to learning and knowledge, what Yemen needs is a change of perception, says Dr. Waheeb Alwan, director of a training institute: “We receive young men and women with an ironic set of perceptions about life, thinking that by getting some sort of qualification that would be their ticket towards a job, and the actual knowledge is irrelevant he also added “If we are to see any hope from this generation we need to change structure of the minds of this generation, we need to set their priorities straight towards what may benefit them and their society”

Dr. Waheeb raised an important point about his understanding of how graduates see training, as a means to a job, not as a process of learning and mind enriching. Perhaps we can conclude that this is a direct consequence of the 'Rat Race' due to the socio-economic pressures exerted on our teens, as such; this has diverted the focus on education from the true essence of learning to the side-effect of income generation through value-added activity.