Yemen education system struggles to survive

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden


Displaced students attend class on October 28th in a makeshift school in the northern district of Abs in Yemen's northwestern Hajjah province. [Essa Ahmed/AFP]

Yemen's war has had a devastating effect on the education system and on access to education for millions of children, a senior government official said.

Speaking at an October 21st meeting in Tunisia to discuss the impact of meal programmes, Yemeni Minister of Education Abdullah Lamlas said the current conflict has led to the closure of nearly 3,600 primary and secondary schools.

The conflict has deprived 1.9 million children of formal education, he said, and has damaged about 2,000 primary and secondary schools, including some that have been repurposed as military barracks by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah).

According to Lamlas, 67% of schools have not paid salaries to their employees, including teachers and administrators, for close to two years.

The school meal programme is necessary to ensure students enroll and remain in school, he said, and can help improve reading and writing proficiency rates.

"The school meal programme was resumed in April 2018 with 123,000 children benefiting from it in the provinces of Aden, Lahj, Saada, Sanaa, Shabwa and Taez," he said.

This year, the Word Food Programme, in co-operation with the government, will expand the programme to benefit 600,000 students in 16 provinces, based on the priorities set by the local education group and education working group.

Grant to support teachers

On October 22nd, Saudi Arabia and the UAE announced they will jointly provide $70 million, with each contributing half, towards the salaries of 135,000 public school teachers in Yemen, in co-operation with the UN and UNICEF.

"Education in Yemen is facing major problems," Deputy Minister of Education Fadl Amtali told Al-Mashareq.

This is due to the war and the deterioration of the economy, he said, noting that as of December 2016, teacher salaries have been suspended in 12 provinces.

The Saudi-UAE grant will be disbursed to all teachers in Yemen through the Central Bank in Aden, based on teacher payrolls of the 2014 school year, and in accordance with the ministry’s agreement with UNICEF, he said.

"The regular disbursement of the Saudi-Emirati grant in the form of monthly incentives will motivate teachers to continue their jobs and perform at a higher level than in the past two years," he added.

Financial situation impacts performance

Teachers are not able to do their jobs without receiving their salaries, Sanaa public school teacher Salah Ali told Al-Mashareq.

"The financial situation of teachers and their families impacts their performance," he said.

Although they are reporting to work, "they cannot fulfill their roles on empty stomachs", Ali said, noting that they are not able to feed their families either.

"A number of teachers have been taking jobs in other professions to pay their rent and buy food for their children," he said, taking side jobs at oil change and car wash shops and even as vegetable vendors.

Ali said teachers were overcome with optimism upon hearing about the Saudi-UAE grant, which will cover a significant part of their families’ needs.

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