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At a glance: Yemen

Child-friendly schools create opportunities for all in targeted districts across Yemen

© UNICEF Yemen/2010/Lopez
Students at the child-friendly Bent Khowailed School in the Al-Mokha district of Taiz governorate, Yemen.

By Sveinn H. Gudmarsson

SANA’A, Yemen, 2 December 2010 – Schools in developed countries might take some basics for granted, including skilled teachers and an atmosphere that is conducive to children’s well-being. But in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East and North Africa, few schools took such measures into consideration until recently.

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Times have changed, however, at least in 11 districts targeted by UNICEF. Among the interventions introduced in these districts is the concept of ‘child-friendly schools,’ 90 of which now exist in five governorates around the country.

The principles of a child-friendly school are simple: The educational environment should be safe and healthy. The rights of children should be protected and their voices should be heard. And schools should be staffed with trained teachers and equipped with adequate resources, such as blackboards, stationery and textbooks.

Cleaner schools, happier students

In the targeted districts in Yemen, UNICEF helps local authorities keep child-friendly schools clean and safe, trains teachers and makes sure that they have the necessary resources to provide children with quality education.

© UNICEF Yemen/2010/Lopez
Courtyard of the child-friendly Bent Khowailed School in Yemen's Al-Mokha district.

The Khadeeja Bent Khowailed School in Al-Mokha district, located in Taiz governorate, is an example of a successful child-friendly school. Its courtyard and classrooms are noticeably clean, and the walls of the schools are decorated with cheerful images. Most important, its pupils are happy and healthy.

“I love the school,” says Haditha, a buoyant sixth grader. “I learn something new every day I go there.” 

Sanitation and hygiene

With their emphasis on clean environments and sanitation facilities, child-friendly schools are particularly conducive to girls’ education. In fact, separate lavatories can be a major factor in determining whether adolescent girls attend school.

Most child-friendly schools also sponsor water, sanitation and hygiene, or WASH, clubs for students. Club members ensure that their schools are kept tidy and promote hygiene and sanitation both inside and outside the classroom. They encourage their peers to wash their hands with soap after bathroom visits and before meals, and advise their families to clean utensils used for food preparation.

“This is very important because it protects our health and saves us from disease,” says Gina, 16, a WASH club member at Amer bin-Alas school in the Al-Sabrah district of Ibb governorate.

Improving girls’ enrolment

In order to boost enrolment of girls – which remains lower in Yemen than in other countries in the region – UNICEF has helped to recruit and contract female teachers in many of the child-friendly schools. The results have been significant.

© UNICEF Yemen/2010/Lopez
Gina (second from left) with her WASH club at the Amer bin-Alas child-friendly school in the Al-Sabrah district of Yemen's Ibb governorate.

In 2006, for example, 70 female teachers were contracted to child-friendly schools in the Bait Al-Faqueeh district of Hodeidah governorate. Three years later, girls’ enrolment had doubled, from 24 per cent to 48 per cent. Similar trends have been observed in other targeted governorates.

“In the past, the girls were in the back of the classroom and the boys were in the front. Now the rows are girls-boys-girls,” says Qassim Al-Shathli, Director of the Education Office in Al-Mokha district “Now we have good interaction with families, and we have noticed a change in regard to the children. They have opportunities for learning and playing, and drop-outs have decreased.”

Positive impact

Mr. Al-Shathli points out that the presence of female teachers also has improved the relationship between mothers and the schools.

“In the past, mothers hardly ever came to the school, because only men were present there,” he says. “Now things are different. Mothers come to school with their children and attend ceremonies and other events. Mothers are proud to have daughters at school.”

But what really counts is the positive impact on the children themselves. Mr. Al-Shathli says students in child-friendly schools – girls in particular – are generally more enthusiastic about education than their peers at regular schools.

Gina agrees. “We have started to think about the future,” she says, “because we believe that educated women will bring their children up in a better way.”




1 December 2010: UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on child-friendly schools supported by UNICEF in Yemen.
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