Back to school? Not in Yemen

Back to school? Not in Yemen
4.5 million school students in Yemen will not be able to resume their classes this coming school year.
4 min read
15 Sep, 2017
Recruitment of child soldiers in Yemen has been exacerbated by the education crisis [Getty]

Education in Yemen is deteriorating yet further. The war shows no sign of abating, and those schools still open are at risk of closure. The school year is beginning this month amid intense violence and a humanitarian catastrophe.

Early last month, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), said 4.5 million school students in Yemen would not be able to resume their classes this coming school year.

As with several other sectors in Yemen, education is facing numerous difficulties. Teachers have not been paid for a year. It may seem a minor issue to those leading the war on either side. It does not move them to know that 4.5 million children will not miss out on an education while teachers cannot eke out a living.

Last September, the payment of salaries to state employees including teachers stopped following a feud over control of the Central Bank of Yemen. Back then, teachers were hopeful that it would only be a short-term problem.

Many classrooms continued operating as usual. As time went by, teachers in Yemen grew disappointed and frustrated. They could not help them put food on the family table.

The scale of the crisis has grown by several magnitudes, and teachers will not be found in their classrooms this year. Many will go elsewhere where they can find paying jobs to feed themselves and their families.

The war had by March totally destroyed 234 schools and partially damaged 1270 others.

Education loses in Yemen's war

It has been 29 months since the civil war engulfed Yemen. The armed clashes and airstrikes have destroyed or damaged hundreds of schools across the country.

The Sanaa-based education ministry released a report in March, pointing to the losses suffered by the education sector since early 2015. The war had by then totally destroyed 234 schools and partially damaged 1270 others.

A further 802 were indirectly affected, having been converted into makeshift shelters for displaced people. The report also stated that 680 schools were closed because of the war.

The Yemeni Education Ministry say the country has 9,517 primary schools and 2,811 high schools. Today, the failure to pay teachers may lead to the shutdown of these remaining schools.

Yemen's education sector was not in the best of health even before the war; a lack of equipment, unqualified teachers and a shortage of textbooks blighted the school system. The crisis in Yemen is accelerating the deterioration of the education system.  

The growth in child soldier recruitment in Yemen is a direct result of the education system's disruption

Child exploitation  

Yemen is marked by violence and poverty, a combination which makes children especially vulnerable to abuse. As children will not be heading to schools, they will find other places to spend their time. They are likely to head to the front lines or the labour market.

Even for older teenagers (and adults), the possibility of finding suitable jobs is remote. However, there is a greater possibility of children finding a paid position with one of the militias on the battlefield. The growth in child soldier recruitment in Yemen is a direct result of the education system's disruption.

This month, the UN High Commission for Human Rights revealed that 1702 children had been recruited by armed groups on both sides of the conflict.

Now with schools empty and shuttered, that number is likely to increase exponentially.

Child labour is another rising problem. Even before the war, Yemen was infamous for children being exploited in the workplace. In 2013, a study conducted by the ILO, the Social Development Fund and UNICEF showed that more than 1.3 million children in Yemen were involved in child labour.

To help combat or at least mitigate this, schools must keep their doors open - and education should be prioritised even during wartime.

Khalid Al-Karimi is a freelance reporter and translator. He is a staff member of the Sanaa-based Yemeni Media Center and previously worked as a full-time editor and reporter for the Yemen Times newspaper. 

Follow him on Twitter: @Khalidkarimi205