Yemeni educators oppose Houthi curriculum changes

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

Yemeni schoolgirls hold anti-war signs in Sanaa, November 2019. [Mohammed Huweis/AFP]

Yemeni schoolgirls hold anti-war signs in Sanaa, November 2019. [Mohammed Huweis/AFP]

Following new changes imposed to Yemeni schools' curricula by the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah), the Yemeni Teachers' Syndicate voiced their objection, saying these changes would turn schools into Iranian regime incubators, fostering sectarianism and dogmatic thought.

Yahya al-Yanai, the syndicate's media representative, said modifications the Houthis have been making to the teaching material since 2016 would serve the Iranian regime's purposes and consolidate its presence in Yemen through education.

According to al-Yanai, such changes would damage Yemenis' national identity and adversely affect Yemen's future. He cited Iran's influence on the curricula in Lebanon and Syria as a case in point.

A memorandum of understanding signed between the Iranian and Syrian ministries of education in January authorised the former to supervise the overhaul of Syria's school curricula and to print Syrian textbooks in Iran.

The agreement also included additional aspects involving Iranian participation in teacher training and instruction, in administering and marking exams, and in supporting vocational education.

Some educators and human rights activists believe a Houthi-serving ideology would alter education content and turn students towards sectarianism, posing a threat to Yemen and the region as a whole.

Houthi ideology expanding

Abdul Rahman al-Maqtari, secretary general of the Teachers' Syndicate in Taiz province, told Al-Mashareq the consequences of modifying teaching materials in favour of a sectarian ideology are far more dangerous than those of the Houthis' military control.

The effect education has on the next generation is more long-term than military control, he explained.

In a previous statement to the media, al-Maqtari said more than 250,000 students enrolled in summer camps in Houthi-controlled areas are taught sectarian ideology, including the doctrine of Wilayat al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist), which calls for allegiance to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Adel Hussein, a public school principal in Sanaa, told Al-Mashareq school principals, guidance counselors and district supervisors take compulsory educational courses on Iran-backed Houthi ideology so they could teach it to students.

Hussein said middle schoolers are influenced by the ideology more than other age groups, noting that some of them end up undergoing military training and joining the fighting at the frontlines.

Saada province and some districts of Amran province, which are practically Houthi incubators, are adhering to recent changes in school curricula, he said, adding that their implementation is expanding to other areas as well.

Curricula changes made unilaterally

Mohammed al-Maqtari, principal of a private school in Sanaa, condemned the unilateral curriculum changes by the Houthis, "when the established procedure has always been to have all educators collaborate in any modification process".

Prior to the Houthis taking control of parts of Yemen, guidance counselors, school administrators, teachers and members of parents' associations were privy to any change, and they all had a say in the process, he told Al-Mashareq.

Current changes would turn schools into "ideological incubators working to serve the Iran-backed Houthi project", he said, and this would affect Yemen and the region.

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