By: Asma Al-Mahattwari
Comparisons between private schools and public schools in Sana’a reveal striking disparities. Perhaps surprisingly, though, each type of school exhibits significant negative and positive aspects in relation to the other.
A result of low economic levels and failed development plans, the education sector in many Arab countries has suffered a great deal. In particular, the establishment of new and improved public schools has been limited, as have been advances in the quality of teachers.
These realities ushered in the emergence of private schools, which were designed to pick up the slack where government schools failed to carry the burden of providing a quality education for students.
In Yemen, the number of private schools has greatly increased over the last ten years. This occurred in concert with state encouragement of private sector investment in education, part of an economic reform program.
According to the latest official Ministry of Education statistics, the private education sector employs about 22,500 workers annually, including 16,500 teachers.
Mohammed Medass, general director of the Department of Private Education, said there are now about 868 private schools in Yemen. “We are responsible for carrying out reports on the quality of the schools, their locations, and the teachers who will work there. The report is then transferred to the Ministry of Education for a decision on whether it will be opened or not,” said Medass.
According to Medass, private schools pay large amounts of fees and taxes to local authorities. “If the standard of education in the private schools is low, this is because of local authorities and their interest in money; also at fault are misunderstandings of the qualifications for opening a new school,” he added.
When talking about services and activities at schools, it will be found that private schools are better off than public schools. The headmaster of Al-Nebras Modern School, Mr. Ali Al-Mansour, said that English and computer-related subjects, taught as basic subjects, can be found a great deal more in private schools. French and German are also offered at some private schools.
Mrs. Najla Al-Haifi, headmistress of the girls’ section at Al-Nebras Modern School, said that private schools provide students with a greater variety of activities and with facilities such as modern libraries and laboratories, and that they prepare science and entertainment field trips for students at least three times a year.
On the other hand, Bushra, a teacher in both private and public schools, opined that a public school education is preferable to that provided by private schools because the aims of private schools are financial, with a greater emphasis placed on the schools’ investment than on a quality education.
For his part, headmaster Al-Manssor said people should not see a private education only in terms of earnings as, in his opinion, they provide a great many services for the benefit of students.
“If it is for investment only, why are all the officials’ and educators’ sons studying in private schools? This should be considered as major evidence in favor of a private education,” Al-Manssor said.
Mr. Abdul-Badee’ Al-Qubati, who has taught in both private and public schools, said that in his experience, public schools allow teachers the right to choose the method and manner they consider most beneficial in teaching their students.
“In private schools, fathers and the students themselves are the ones who determine the method used; if the teacher uses another method, he might be fired,” said Al-Qubati.
Despite all the negatives that can be attributed to public schools, test results have confirmed that the level of education given in public schools is higher than that provided in private schools.
Mrs. Ebtisam, a teacher in s public school, said the reason behind the higher level of public schools can be attributed to higher-quality teachers with more expertise, and genuine backgrounds as educators.
“The focus in a public school education is the educational level, whereas the target for private schools is profit,” she said.
University student Yahiya Al-Mansour said, “Yemeni educations have deteriorated in both private and public schools, but more so in the private institutions because there isn’t any control over curriculums. For example, at the Yemen Modern School, they give students curriculums which aren’t related to our religion. As for me, I will choose public schools for my children,” he said.
“The worst thing about private schools is that students don’t respect the teacher. In private schools, they have a rule: the students and their fathers come first, and then the teacher, so whatever the student does, the teacher should keep silent; otherwise, he will lose his job,” said Ms. Nawal, a teacher in a private school.
Zaid Ibrahim said four of his children study at private schools, but complains that their educational level remains low. The school cares more about trips and entertainment. “I transferred my older son from a private to a public school and really noticed a difference in my son’s personality and in how he cared much more about studying than before,” he said.
“Private school educations should be improved. The objectives of private school investors shouldn’t be economic and based on profitability of the first place; they should have developmental and humanitarian goals,” the father suggested.