Education in Yemen: Students out of school and schools out of service
Over the past four years, the infrastructure and output of Yemen’s education sector has been deeply affected. Although in theory education has become a basic human right, it is often disrupted by conflicts and wars. This is the case in Yemen, which is currently steeped in a period of conflict that has had a negative impact on all aspects of life, including education. According to the 2017 Humanitarian Response Plan, two million Yemeni children of school age are out of school, and over 1600 schools are out of use as a result of conflict. This number increased in 2018, with almost 21 per cent of schools and more than 4.1 million school age children in need of assistance to continue education, and the situation remains at risk of further deterioration.
The war has had a grave effect, not only on students who are without school but also on those who were able to continue within the system, but with the quality of education deteriorating severely. This has been due to many factors, including a decrease in the number of classes and the inability of teachers to continue teaching because of the delays to salaries – and as a consequence, there exists a state of financial helplessness towards their family responsibilities. More than 166,000 teachers have faced difficulties in receiving their salaries since October 2016. Altogether, they constitute 73 per cent of the total number of teachers in Yemen. These difficulties, combined with the limited distribution of textbooks, have made the educational process poor and inadequate in terms of quality and inclusiveness.
In 2018, many international and local organizations scaled up their efforts to support education in the governorates that have been most affected. This came in response to the shocking reality in these regions. Since the beginning of the war, the poverty rate has continued to grow, teachers remain without salaries, and the conflict has exhausted all development funds, including those dedicated to education. The number of affected schools has increased to nearly a third, and these numbers will continue to rise if the war continues, therefore exacerbating the number of people in need of assistance in education.
The Yemen Education Group – a group of UN agencies, international and national non-governmental organizations, the Ministry of Education in Sana’a and Aden, as well as local districts, parent councils and school committees – plan to reach more than one million out of 4.1 million children in 2018. This target group includes teachers, parents, school committees and emergency education services in 21 Yemeni governorates. In addition, goals to improve the situation include the rehabilitation of classrooms, provision of school furniture and supplies, temporary or alternative classrooms for children, psychological and social support for children and teachers, and the alleviation of malnutrition among children.
In order to provide a good educational service during a period of conflict, the partners should take into account some of the following priorities and strategies. First, increase the level of partnership with non-governmental organizations and expand their accessibility and outreach, especially those working directly with the population in remote governorates and rural areas. Second, increase the level of partnership with local councils, education offices and decision-makers, and build their capacity to protect the right to education for children and advocate for the cause – and at the same time contribute to solving their current and growing problems, such as the lack of enrollment and dropout rate in remote and small governorates or rural areas, which have increased much more compared with cities. Third, focus on gender and girls’ rights to education, which is the demographic with the highest dropout rate according to the 2018 Humanitarian Response Plan. This is attributed to several reasons, including lack of sanitation facilities that are exclusively dedicated to girls and local traditions that still dominate the communities in urban and rural areas, which create obstacles for girls needing to access secondary and higher education. In addition, many villages and remote towns lack the infrastructure to accommodate the number of girls in the educational process. Fourth, the rehabilitation of water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in targeted schools must be included in the plan. Fifth, focus on the needs of vulnerable groups in education, such as minorities and children with special needs.
The components of the educational process are many, and most, or all, are in need of support due to the gap in the humanitarian process as a whole in Yemen. In the education sector, there is a huge gap between the actual needs and the support available to tackle them. For example, the number of children in need of assistance this year, as mentioned above, is 4.1 million, 2.8 million of whom are in dire need of educational support. However, only 1.8 million children are benefiting from these programs.
The Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) has identified a set of standards for preparedness, response and recovery. Some general criteria include: the right to education in emergencies, the importance of education everywhere, the need to support teachers, community participation, resource allocation and the activation of coordination mechanisms, assessment of the learning process, effective response, and monitoring and evaluation. In addition, it is also necessary to focus on certain special criteria, such as sources of learning, equal access to education, protection, welfare, facilities, services, curricula, training, development of teaching methods, evaluation of the educational process and standards of recruitment and selection, working conditions, supervision, and adherence to education policies and laws.
The ability to offer a comprehensive and high quality educational service can be achieved by examining the current status of education and the research available. Planning and designing an effective response strategy that covers the needs of the sector, that is in line with the needs of the community, is highly sensitive to conflict and the psychological and social needs of children – including early childhood, adolescence, youth and gender – is extremely important.
These standards, and other standards relating to the humanitarian education sector, were created to help provide a good and comprehensive educational service during emergencies. Today this support and effort towards the education sector in Yemen during a time of conflict needs to be doubled in comparison to normal political contexts. The current provisions so far cover only those who are in urgent need, and provide basic resources for the continuation of the educational process as it is, but do not meet many of the criteria that guarantee the inclusiveness and quality of work in the educational process in a humanitarian emergency. Outputs in this sector will therefore be limited and ineffective in minimizing the conflict’s severity in Yemen in the long term. In fact, as well as being ineffective in contributing to development in a country where the majority of the population suffers from dire poverty, they may even be a tool of conflict.
Education is an essential sector and must be given great importance and priority in action. It offers important opportunities for early childhood development, helps to preserve life and human dignity, and reduce the psychological and social impact of conflicts. Education offers a pathway towards social and human transformation, thus contributing to political, economic and social stability, creating a culture of tolerance and coexistence, which in turn leads to better protection of human rights, of the environment, and greater capacity to prevent disasters.