By: Jihan Anwar
On Saturday, September 15, 2012, about 5 million Yemeni students returned to school. However, a World Bank report on education stated that most teachers in classrooms for grades one through nine were in fact best qualified to teach at the high school level. The result is incompetence and a mismatch in lessons contents and teaching methods, which frequently leaves students in less than ideal situations.
The MASTERY (Mathematics and Science Teacher Education Reform in Yemen) project, started in 2005, aims to find solutions for this problem.
The National Yemen spoke to Dr. Marinus Kool, External Consultant to the project, from the
Centre for International Cooperation of the V U University in Amsterdam and National Project Coordinator Dr. Abdul-Rahman Shaif Muckbiel.
What is the most compelling issue which needs to be addressed in Yemen’s educational system?
An extensive study was carried out in 2007 by our colleagues Dr. Leo de Feiter and Dr. Mahyoub Anaam – related to one of the projects funded by the World Bank – on teacher supply and demand in Yemen. The main issues addressed by the study were the lack of alignment at all school levels between the need for teachers and the supply from pre-service teacher education programs; a lack of alignment in the availability of in-service programs to upgrade teacher qualifications where needed or wished for; the types of teachers needed in schools (teachers in grades one through six), domain teachers (grades four through nine), subject teachers (grades ten through twelve with an additional domain or subject qualification); quantitative data on the composition of the teaching force , the number of teachers to be upgraded, the purposes and cost-effectiveness of upgrading programs, and out-of-subject teaching; the actual needs for new teachers; the mismatch between unemployed female teachers (40%) and the lack of female teachers in rural secondary schools for girls.
What is MASTERY?
The main aim of the MASTERY project is to improve the bachelor of education programs in the education faculties in three public universities in Yemen. The project addressed issues such as increases in the amount of practical work, the balance between content and methodology courses, and the lack of educational resources.
What kind of programs did you carry out? What kind of implementations?
We have put standards in place so that there were some specific, required fundamentals the teachers had to know in terms of subject content, professionalism, competence as well as the proper methods for teaching various subjects.
There was a deficiency in the teaching system; the project aimed to establish a kind of balance between subject content and teaching methods. Based on these standards, we completed the new programs and translated them into courses which were designed and dependent on present and actual needs. This procedure took about a year and half since it was the first time in Yemen that an operation of this kind and size took place. We had about 30 to 90 teachers training with us and participating in the project. From the part of the teachers themselves, they were mostly eager to learn something new and in such cases, they learned how to develop entire courses based on some predetermined standards so that students would reach a set level of competence and knowledge.
We will now have a new project that can be considered a product of the MASTERY project for basic education and which will be implemented in classes from grades four to nine. The World Bank adopted the project and obtained a grant for the education faculty of Sana’a University to prepare a program for the class teachers, and they are taking as a model what we have done in the MASTERY project. Our inception period for the Basic Education program started on the 15th, and we’ll have a four-year period to carry out the project with financial support from the Dutch government amounting to 1,500,000 Euro. The Universities of Sana’a, Ibb, Taiz and Aden will be participating in the program.
Is the MASTERY project a new approach developed to address specific needs within Yemen, or it has been modeled based on previous successful cases?
I think MASTERY brought a new approach to Yemen, especially the process of formulating Teacher Education Standards for high school seniors, which, in turn, were used to develop study programs at the three universities. This was new to Yemen and counted on the participation of a large number of staff. It was partly based on other experiences – from the region (UAE), from Western Europe (Netherlands, Scotland) and from Southern Africa (Namibia).
The project came as a solution for a need that was felt in the Ministry of Education; graduates from the education department didn’t have the necessary skills, or their skills were not in sync with the schools’ requirements. There is no real cooperation between the Ministry of Education and Yemeni Universities in the sense that the curriculum should convey the need to the Minister of Education – since the Ministry is the base resource for graduates; but this is not currently happening. In fact, there is an educational gap between Ministry of Education programs and those taught at the universities.
In the’ 90s, a reform was implemented in the educational programs of the Ministry of Education but they didn’t take into consideration the need to also change programs in the educational faculties at the universities. There are things that are taught now in high school which are not presented as curriculum topics in the educational department at the universities. The teachers face challenges in teaching syllabi they’ve never seen or studied before. The consequence was that teachers who were trained to teach the fourth to ninth grade classes reverted to teaching first to third grade classes instead.
What were the major challenges you’ve encountered in carrying out MASTERY?
Language. The external consultants did not speak Arabic; and a significant portion of the Yemeni staff has a limited knowledge of English. This necessitated translations of documents, and presentations in workshops and in meetings. It complicated many times direct dialogue between visiting experts and Yemeni staff, and between academics in the Netherlands and visiting Yemeni staff.
Another practical implementation challenge had to do with the location of three universities, as they are quite far apart from each other, implying the need for a lot of travel and associated logistics and costs. Finally, getting full institutional support from some deans and overcoming resistance from traditional-minded teaching staff that resisted any changes. At the same time, the project stimulated a lot of exchange between the three universities in Sana’a, Dhamar and Al-Hodeidah; their staffs cooperated in the development of standards, programs and courses. A positive unexpected result was that a dialogue and understanding was created between members of the Science and Research Department and members of the Educational Department when before they had worked independently from each other.
Also, the presidents of some Universities were not quite enthusiastic about the project. The project organized three-week training for 100+ lab-technicians from five faculties from three universities. We met a lot of resistance from some members of educational departments that opposed the changes.
Has the country’s revolution and political instability affected the program’s progress?
Yes, we had planned a closing conference in Sana’a and support for the development of some level four courses. This was not possible due to the security situation. The Dutch government put a ban on project activities (April 2011 through March 2012).
What do you expect the short and long term impact of MASTERY to be?
Improved teacher education programs and facilities; trained staff at three universities; dissemination to other public universities; the use of acquired skills to develop programs for junior secondary and upper primary teacher education programs.
Our recommendation is for education department courses to be reviewed so that the Ministry of Education’s needs will be satisfied. The review and reconsideration of the courses and programs in the faculty of education are essential and vital matters and should be carried out as quickly as possible. The Ministry of Education’s actual need for teachers at the high school level is only 10% at most, yet graduates from the faculty of education continue to be prepared to teach at the high school level. This obviously leads to unemployment for the remaining 90%.
The Ministry of Education needs to invest in the improvement of educational system, but considering the country’s current situation, it’s more likely that it will cut the budget sooner than it will add to it.
The courses in some departments haven’t changed in 30 to 35 years, except at a superficial level. Now the common international practice is to remove the validity of certificates and degrees from universities that are not willing to reconsider and change their curriculums.
If we want to be really ambitious and compete with the schools and workforces of the countries surrounding us, we need to have primary school students taught in a way that provides them with solid foundations.