Women Break Traditions in Illiteracy Classes

National Yemen

Asma al-Mohattwari

Samah, a woman in her forties, used to be the first one at any party or gathering with her Qat and Mada’a. She used to spend her afternoons with her friends talking, laughing and enjoying her time. One day she came very late to a party, making her friend ask, “Why are you late? It is not your habit. We thought that you would not come.” She replied, “I was in school.” Everyone was astonished that at her age, she was still going to school.

When Seham was a child, her father didn’t allow her to join school because it was not allowed for girls to study in their village. She got married, had children, and become responsible for a home. After her children attended to school, she started to blame her father for not allowing her to study and she found that she couldn’t help her children with their schoolwork. She wanted to study but didn’t have time. Years passed and all her children went to university, freeing up her time.

One day, she received a message on her phone but she was alone at home; there was no one to read the message for her. She thought again of studying and this time she decided to join a literacy center, ignoring the sarcastic comments from her friends and relatives. The encouragement of her husband and children was enough for her.

“Education has no specific age; at least I am studying to read the holy Quran and the basic things like messages. Now I can send my husband messages without any help,” she said with a laugh.

Ahmed Abdullah Ahmad, Head of Literacy and Adult Education, said that they are working on implementing a variety of activities in literacy schools and raising enrollment rates as well as updating the literacy program and adult education through creating a specialized curriculum and targeting rural areas where there are high rates of illiteracy, especially among females. “Illiteracy is a prominent obstacle that hinders the development of communities.”

He added that the total number of students in literacy and adult education centers for the year 2013/2014 are 192,605. 175,937 or 96% of them are females, and the number of female students in women’s training centers reached 8,959.

One of the most important women’s rights is education, although the illiteracy rate for women in Yemen is 45%. UNICEF reported that the percentage of illiteracy among rural women mounts to 62% while the percentage in urban areas is 54%. In most cities, the rate of school enrollment among girls is higher than boys. However, the percentage of girls’ enrollments in rural areas is low, especially in secondary schools. The matter is more appealing in Yemen’s remoter areas and provinces where there are very few or no girls enrolled in primary schools, let alone secondary school.

Educational systems originated in Yemen in the sixties of the twentieth century; the educational process is supervised by three Ministries: Ministry of Education that cares about the public education of both types; public and private sectors, vocational schools and community colleges are managed by the Ministry of Technical Education and Vocational Training.

The reality of education in Yemen is so poor that illiteracy rate of has reached 70% in rural areas and 38% in cities. Yemen lacks qualified teachers, where 45% of teachers do not have a high school certificate, 18% have a high school degree, while only 13.8% have a college degree.

A study presented by Dr. Abdullah Al-Salahi about education explained that education in Yemen suffers from problems threatening security. The most important issues are the absence of policies and plans and the absence of the general law of education as a legal and intellectual reference to leaders of education.

In November 2014, the Bahah Government of Yemen made the development of the education system its top priority. The share of the budget dedicated to education has remained high during the past decade, averaging between 14 to 20% of the total government expenditure and as of 2000 it was 32.8%. The education expenditure was 9.6% of GDP in 2001. In the strategic vision for the next 25 years, the government has committed to bringing significant changes to the education system, thereby reducing illiteracy to less than 10% by 2025. Although Yemen’s government provides for universal, compulsory, free education for children ages six through 15, the U.S. Department of State reports that compulsory attendance is not enforced.

Bahah’s announcement brought back Yemenis’ hope for a professional education. Bahah stressed that the government will strive to provide full support to the Ministry of Education because education has become part of the path of nation building. “I wish for educational institutions free from smoking and Qat, which affects the education process.”