Education crisis affects 5 million Yemeni children

By Faisal Darem in Sanaa

Public schools in Sanaa remain deserted and registration has yet to begin due to a teachers' strike over non-payment of salaries. [Faisal Darem/Al-Mashareq]

Public schools in Sanaa remain deserted and registration has yet to begin due to a teachers' strike over non-payment of salaries. [Faisal Darem/Al-Mashareq]

Yemen's education system is on the brink of collapse, according to a September 18th report issued by the Ministry of Planning and International Co-operation.

As of June, 2,407 schools across the country that had served 1.5 million children had been fully or partially destroyed during the ongoing conflict, said Deputy Minister of Education Abdul-Karim al-Jandari.

Teachers are on strike in protest of the non-payment of their salaries for almost a year, there is a scarcity of textbooks, and many schools are being used to house internally displaced persons (IDPs) or as barracks for combatants.

The current crisis threatens to deprive more than five million children of an education, the report said.

The extent of the damage varies, with 10% of affected schools totally destroyed, 56% partially destroyed, 7% currently occupied by IDPs or combatants, and 27% no longer being used to house civilians or fighters.

"This has a negative impact on the education process," he told Al-Mashareq, adding that the worst-affected schools are primarily located in the provinces of Sanaa, Amran, Hajjah, al-Hodeidah and Saada.

"A large number of schools hosted IDPs, because many of them are without shelter," he said, noting that many schools in Ibb province are hosting IDPs from Taez province due to the battles there.

Interim measures put in place

"Some of the partially-damaged schools have undergone restoration and repairs as part of the donor-funded emergency programme," al-Jandari said.

Close to 360 schools have been repaired in Sanaa, Taez, al-Dhale, Hajja, al-Hodeidah and other provinces, he said, but "nearly 300 schools were totally destroyed and remain in ruins due to lack of funds".

Interim measures have been put in place in order to accommodate the growing number of students, he said.

"In areas where schools were totally destroyed, we set up alternative classrooms in tents," he said, adding that temporary classrooms also have been established.

In areas that have absorbed large numbers of IDPs, such as Sanaa, schools have been operating in double shifts, he said, while schools in provinces with a large number of IDPs are offering three shifts.

Meanwhile, he said, the teachers' strike is affecting roughly four million students in northern provinces, and about two million in southern and eastern provinces.

Textbooks in short supply

The school year began on September 17th in southern and eastern provinces under government control, and on September 30th in other provinces.

In Abyan, the school year is under way, despite a shortage of textbooks and the physical state of the schools, many of which have been damaged or destroyed, said deputy Abyan governor Abdulaziz al-Hamza.

Some of the destruction is a result of the ongoing war, he said, while al-Qaeda is responsible for some of the damage, as it overran the province in 2011.

"We still suffer from a shortage of textbooks, but despite that, we focused our efforts on starting and continuing the education process, even if it has to be in makeshift classrooms in tents," he told Al-Mashareq.

Teachers' strike continues

Private schools in the Sanaa administrative district have opened for student registration, while the teachers' strike continues at public schools.

"Private schools, which receive 200,000 students a year, have opened their doors for registration," said Mohammed al-Fadhli, director-general of the Sanaa administrative district education office.

Public schools are still closed because of the teachers' strike, which affects more than 600,000 students, he told Al-Mashareq.

He stressed the importance of paying teachers, pointing out that some have been forced to take on other types of work in order to feed their families.

The Teachers and Educators Syndicate in Sanaa administrative district will continue the strike until salaries are paid, said syndicate secretary general Ayesh Abu Luhum.

"We hope there will be a solution, because teachers have obligations, such as paying the rent and buying food for their families," he told Al-Mashareq.

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