“4.5 million students are deprived of education in 2017 as a result of the strike by teachers, who demand their salaries, which remain unpaid for more than a year”, stated UNICEF recently. Education, considered the reason behind the success of the most politically and economically stable countries in the world as well as the main cause of cultural and historical renaissances, has stopped completely in Yemen. The school year started with schools empty of students.
This year, the decline in educational access stands as one of the worst crisis among all the crises experienced by Yemen since the beginning of the war in 2015. At first, a lot of schools were destroyed completely or partially by internal clashes between the Houthis, the resistance and the external bombing campaign by the Saudis. Then many schools were turned into military barracks or refuge shelters for displaced people from Saada and other governorates.
Earlier, the UN stated that the number of students who did not go to school in 2015 reached 2.9 million, while 1.8 million students dropped out of schools for various economic and social reasons. The report added that thousands of students are threatened with having to leave school if they do not receive assistance, which means 78 per cent of school-age children will not be able to attend school in the coming years in a country ranked second for global illiteracy rates, according to a UNESCO study in 2015.
Dreams go up in the smoke
“After my dad realized the importance of education for girls, I was the luckiest one among my sisters. They dropped out of school early, as the education stopped”, says Maria, a 16 year old secondary school second grader.
Unlike her older sisters who dropped out of school for marriage, Maria has received a lot of support from her father, who realized the importance of education and promised to support her to complete her university education. However, today Maria is at home, and her father has the idea of marriage again.
“My father is a government official. He does not have a salary and cannot afford a private school. He said if schools do not open, I will be married. I want to go back to school. I have dreams in my mind to achieve”, says Maria, her eyes filled with tears.
Like Maria, many girls and boys look to their dreams like distant stars that can’t be reached. Education was the only way to make their dreams come true, and now this route is closed to them.
Education only for those who have money
Noor, Maria’s closest friend, has moved to a private school to complete her education. Her expatriate father was able to send the tuition fees to enroll his daughter in school, while Maria remains hopeful that all public schools will open their doors.
“Noor is my childhood friend and the closest one. She is my neighbor too. I have studied with her since the first grade. We were together all the time, studying, participating, dreaming, and going to and coming back from school. I have never imagined that we will not complete school together. However, she was forced to move to a private school because her father has money. I visit Noor everyday to tell me about her school”, Maria explains sadly.
Private schools opened their doors, but they raised registration fees due to prices hikes and high dollar rate. The few public schools that are open bring in volunteers to teach students as there are no salaries; as this is unsustainable, it is likely they too will soon close.
Others also decided on private school, but for different reasons. Amal’s mother, whose daughter was a student at Amna Bent Wahab School in Sana’a city, said that she is forced to enroll her daughter in a private school because it’s her last school year. “My daughter studied all the years in a public school. The fees are only 300 YR. We did not consider private schools because they are so expensive. The fees there are no less than 150,000 YR for the secondary level, in addition to book and transportation fees. Therefore, I have sold my gold ring to pay the money. I do not want her to stop. There is no hope any more with public schools”, Amal’s mother adds.
School principals confirm that students drop out from public school to attend private schools, especially in the last grades of both secondary and intermediate levels – even more so with boys’ schools. “Parents come to my school this year to take their children’s files. I know those families well, some of whom do not have money to enroll their children in private schools. I’m sure they were forced to sell a precious thing or borrow money”, said Hanan Haidara, principal of Amna Bent Wahab School.
According to Haidara, the Ministry of Education should not have allowed private schools to open their doors before finding a solution to the public education problem. “Starting education in private schools astonished me because the Ministry of Education has stated a decision not to start education. Why then? Will education be only for those who have money?” asks Haidara with dismay.
Haidara announced that she will not force any teacher to attend school. Teachers and students struggled last year to complete the school year. Some teachers reached a point where they could not come to school because they did not have money for transportation. A lot of students in public schools stand in front of the Ministry of Education demanding to stop education in private schools. They have chanted slogans, saying that education is their right and it should not be only for those who have money.
Hungry revolution is coming
In many schools in Sana’a city, female teachers went to their schools on the first day with red badges on their hands, symbolizing their anger with the situation. They called together in one voice: “No education without salaries”. Then they went back home.
Ruqia al-Musawi, an Arabic teacher at al-Raudh School, strongly welcomes the idea of striking until the salaries are paid. “I spent 20 years teaching. Now I don’t have even half a salary.” She continues: “It’s not an economic problem. The fact is that our salaries were plundered by Houthis who are controlling all the state institutions in the capital, Sana’a, and the legitimate government in Saudi Arabia pays all its attention only to the southern regions.”
Al-Musawi confirms that if the situation continues like this, no doubt there will be a hungry revolution. “We are starving. I don’t have money to buy medicine for my son. I can’t pay the rent, so now I have a room in the house of my husband’s father. I was deprived of the salary and my children are deprived of their studies.”
After a lot of experience in the field of teaching, teachers go to look for jobs in private sectors, like schools, restaurants, hospitals and supermarkets, in order to get a livelihood.
Promises will not be kept
Last year, teachers worked hopefully, although without salaries, under many promises and decisions from the Ministry of Education to improve the situation and pay the salaries. However, the new school year started without achieving anything.
“During the last year, we received only half of two salaries as well as food baskets containing flour, sugar and cooking oil. It is really a feeling of injustice and oppression when you wait for your salary, which is one of your rights, as if it is a charity”, says al-Musawi.
Recently, the Ministries of Finance, Civil Service and Education announced their commitment to pay half a salary and a ration card for each teacher. However, by the end of October, teachers received only half a salary. At the same time, the prices of oil, gas and diesel increased, with the price of 20 liters of petroleum increasing from 5,200 to 8,000 YR.
“Half a salary only is an unfair solution, but we agree if they will fulfill their promises and continue paying it per-month. As citizens watching what is happening in the country, we are not optimistic to get anything in November. Rising prices with no salaries makes the situation worse. We are victims of the war merchants inside and outside the country. They do not feel our sufferings, and their sole goal is to achieve their victory and personal aims”, concludes al-Musawi.
By paying half a salary to the teachers, some managers have restarted classes, though most of teachers are still on strike; this has forced the managers to bring unqualified volunteers to teach students.
The salaries stopped more than a year ago, since Saudi Arabia and Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi decided to move the Central Bank to Aden and changed its leadership. The southern regions are financially stable, people receive salaries monthly and education is continuing normally. On the other side, Houthis control the revenues of the telecommunications sector and the local revenues of customs, taxes, and oil and gas, that reach billions yearly. At the end of all these events, created by the war merchants, education and the dreams of youth are the victims.