Sunday, February 15, 2015

Education Is Yemen's Hope

Education is the key to progress and one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and is vital in reducing poverty and inequality by creating opportunities for sustainable and viable economic growth. Nelson Mandela said "Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world"In a country like Yemen where the illiteracy rate of both sexes (15 years and above) is almost 40 per cent (according to UNICEF, 60 percent of adult women in Yemen are illiterate, compared to 30 percent of men), education and the empowerment of the women and youth is an imperative necessity for any concrete development in Yemen.

Only 5% of Yemen's government budget has been allocated to education, while 30 to 40 percent of the nation’s budget goes toward defence and security spending. Therefore, the government has been providing less than 10 percent of the actual needs of schools. In addition, 70 percent of schools and students in Yemen are in rural areas, which created difficulty in providing services, and resulted in about 300 thousand students in 616 schools studying under trees and in inappropriate locations and according to media reports there are 2 million students across the country who have no chairs, although the real figures could be more. Some classes in Yemeni towns and cities, including the capital Sanaa, are overcrowded, with no proper classrooms or desks.

This is how students are taught in some rural areas in Yemen
Other classrooms in a rural areas in Yemen
Many schools, including in the capital Sanaa, don't have enough chairs or desks for students
Yemen also suffers from low-quality teaching and facilities and high absenteeism rates at schools.  Just 63 percent of school-aged youth in Yemen completed primary school in 2010, and one in four third-graders cannot read at all.  Poverty has forced some families to chose their child's labour or early marriage (in the case of females, especially in the rural areas) over education. The lack of trained teachers, especially women has been another factor effecting education in Yemen. According to a recent UNESCO report 18 percent of teachers have university degrees and only 60 percent hold high school degrees. The gender gap among teachers in Yemen is also wide, and has been a deterrent to girls’ school attendance since some conservative families will not allow female members to be taught by men. In 2010-2011, only 28% of teachers in government primary and secondary schools were female. 

Millions of dollars in foreign aid has been pumping into Yemen over the years to sustain the economy or address emergency situations, yet only a small portion has been aimed towards planning longterm development projects which invest in the future of Yemen, such as education. In the absence of the proper monitoring and evaluation mechanisms, much of those funds have has been going to corrupt officials. While the US aid to Yemen has predominantly been channeled towards counter terrorism rather than education. A recent report by Rand Corp pointed that weak and frail states, such as Yemen, can’t absorb security cooperation aid and the best results came from “non-material aid, such as education, law enforcement..etc.” Rand explained that investment in human capital has large payoffs.

Yemen's central government's widespread corruption along with its weakness and ineffectiveness in controlling much of the country, has led to a lack of provision in public services needed to improve the educational sector. Repairing the infrastructure, building new facilities, revising the syllabus, providing sufficient learning materials, training teachers, narrowing teacher-student ratios, and addressing gender disparities—especially in the rural areas are educational priorities that Yemen must address. 

Alternatively to relying solely on government institutions, there is a need and demand for the civil society to assume a more dominant role in non-partisan aid delivery. The country can not rely on the government alone, there is a need to converge all official and popular efforts towards achieving this goal. Indeed some Yemenis have started their own initiatives. Yemen Relief and Development Forum (YRDF), an umbrella charity set up by the Yemeni diaspora in the UK, aims to use the power of the Yemeni diaspora in the UK to help Yemen to move forward. Yemen Education and Relief Organisation (YERO) is non governmental organisation, aimed primarily at education, has been working with some of the most deprived children in Yemen's capital city, Sana'a, for the past 10 years. By enrolling children onto school, and giving them homework classes and additional learning opportunities through extra-curricular activities it has enabled them to build a better future for themselvesDirector and founder of YERO, Miss Nouria Nagi OBE speaks about about her work in this video  

Malcom X said "Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today." For any real reform to happen in Yemen it is pivotal to invest in the education of the future generation and Yemen'civil society has a huge role and responsibility towards achieving that.

N.B: YERO is a charity which relies on the goodwill and generosity of the general public. To now more on ways to help click here

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