School dropout rate threatens Yemen's future

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi

Eight-year-old Louai and his brother Rakan dropped out of school and now sell shoes on a sidewalk in Houthi-held Sanaa to help provide for their family. [Haitham Mohammed/Al-Mashareq]

Eight-year-old Louai and his brother Rakan dropped out of school and now sell shoes on a sidewalk in Houthi-held Sanaa to help provide for their family. [Haitham Mohammed/Al-Mashareq]

ADEN -- While other children his age attend classes, 10-year-old Haitham Saleh sits outside a Sanaa restaurant with a scale, trying to convince customers to weigh themselves for 100 YER ($0.40) a time.

Haitham said he relinquished "notebooks and textbooks" and dropped out of school partly to help his family bring in money as they faced a deteriorating living situation in the city, which is controlled by the Iran-backed Houthis.

But the poor quality of education on offer also was a factor, he told Al-Mashareq.

"I earn approximately 1,000 to 2,000 YER ($4 to $8) a day, and this is better than staying in a school with hardly any teachers," Haitham said.

Teachers left in droves as they were not being paid, he said, and the state-run school he attended was forced to halve the classes it offered.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), about 2.4 million Yemeni children are outside the education system.

The United Nations (UN) estimates that around 3,000 schools in Yemen have been damaged or destroyed.

High dropout rate

The low standard of living and high cost of education have made it difficult for many poorer families to justify spending money on educating their children, said researcher Nawal Abdul Rahman of Sanaa University's Population Studies Centre.

This has disproportionately affected girls, she told Al-Mashareq, leading to a rise in the female illiteracy rate.

"Political conflicts and wars devastate the education sector by destroying schools," she said.

Even in areas where school buildings remain intact, many schools have been used as emergency shelter for those displaced by the war, she added.

The overall deterioration of economic and social conditions has caused Yemenis "to struggle to make a living and forsake their children's education", she said.

The war ended teachers' salaries, which drove them to pursue other professions in order to provide for their families, said Abdul Rahman.

According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), more than 171,000 teachers have not received their salaries for almost four years.

The school dropout rate is problematic because many of the children who are not attending regular classes are swept into "sectarian courses" offered by the Houthis, Deputy Minister of Justice Faisal al-Majeedi told Al-Mashareq.

He accused the Houthis of "carrying out a systematic campaign to weaken education and cause students to drop out" by opening and promoting sectarian religious schools and camps that push Iran's regional agenda.

A generation at risk

According to political analyst Mahmoud al-Taher, the number of school dropouts in Yemen is higher than the figure given by the IOM.

"This number is large and threatens the future of an entire generation," he said, adding that these children "go to work and to the camps run by the Houthis, who exploit them on a sectarian basis".

Al-Taher pointed to the UN agreement signed with the Houthis on April 18 to prevent children from being recruited as fighters.

But the Houthis' pledge to phase out child soldiers was met with scepticism.

"The Houthis pushed thousands of children into summer camps, and from there to the battlefronts," al-Taher said, stressing, "These are children, all of whom have not received an adequate degree of education."

Abdul Rahman also noted that recruitment is higher among school dropouts.

"In areas of war and conflict, there will be an inevitable increase in the recruitment of children and their use as human shields in war," she said.

"Some of the children who drop out of school will end up heading to the labour market, leading to an increase in ... child labour," she said.

"Others will turn to begging on the streets, which exposes them to physical, psychological and verbal abuse," she added.

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