The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) have launched a back-to-school campaign designed to fill the militia's war coffers and advance a sectarian agenda that serves the Iranian regime, Yemeni educators and observers say.
Education offices and schools in Houthi-controlled areas began a back-to-school campaign in mid-August amid a dearth of school supplies and teaching aids in most public schools, and the continued suspension of teachers' salaries for more than two years because of the war.
Through its campaign, the militia aims to collect donations under the cover of fixing the state of public schools and education in Houthi-controlled areas, while in fact using that money to fund its own Iran-aligned plans, observers said.
Schools in Houthi-controlled areas opened registration for the 2019-2020 school year in mid-August, with the Ministry of Education in Sanaa setting September 14th as the start date for the new school year.
Meanwhile, UNICEF has its own multi-faceted programme to support back-to-school campaigns, "but this programme is still under discussion with the Ministry of Education and local authorities in Houthi-controlled areas", a source at UNICEF in Yemen told Al-Mashareq on condition of anonymity.
"We are 10 days away from the start of the new school year and we have not yet begun implementing it, because the programme and the responsibilities of each party have yet to be defined," he said.
Houthis 'destroy' education system
"The Houthi group harnesses all the efforts of state institutions, particularly educational institutions, to advance its sectarian agenda and the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist) to serve Iran's interests in the region," political analyst Faisal Ahmed told Al-Mashareq.
Acceptance of the Wilayat al-Faqih doctrine serves the expansionist interests of the Iranian regime and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
"The Houthis force businessmen in every district to enter into partnerships with them to support education and schools in their district with no results to show for it over the past four years," he said.
Public schools lack the most basic supplies and teachers have not been paid their salaries in two years.
"This puts education up in the air because the Houthis are only interested in imposing their sectarian programmes and directives, the same ones Iran imposes in its schools, to mobilise fighters for the battlefronts without regard to strengthening the capacity of the education system," Ahmed said.
"The war imposed by the Houthis has destroyed the education system and 80% of Yemen's schools," he said.
The back-to-school campaign in Houthi-controlled areas has been launched through the media, social media and mosque preachers to urge parents to enroll their sons and daughters in school, said Khalid Salem, from the education office in the Sanaa administrative district, who preferred to use a pseudonym out of fear for his safety.
"Some businessmen and financiers provide in-kind and cash support to education offices or direct support to the schools in their districts," he said.
"However, this support is not organised nor monitored," he added.
Salem noted that private schools are more prepared for the start of the new school year, in contrast to public schools.
Public schools "are stalled because teachers are not attending classes and they lack the [necessary] resources and equipment, most importantly textbooks", he said.
"This makes the future uncertain."
"The [Houthi] education office also imposed a fee of 1,000 riyals [$4] per student to cover the transport of teachers," Salem added.
"Most teachers have left public schools for private schools, while education offices in Houthi-controlled areas have replaced the [absent] teachers with their own people," said Hatem Ali, a teacher at a secondary school in Sanaa who asked to use a pseudonym out of fear for his safety.
This will contribute to "disseminating the group’s sectarian curriculum to the students, in particular secondary school students, and lure them to the frontlines," he told Al-Mashareq.
Public schools lack the most basic resources and teachers are not attending their classes because they are either unable to reach their schools or have taken other jobs to provide for their children, he said.