Yemen’s Hidden Emergency: An Education System in Crisis
UNICEF Yemen takes a multi-pronged strategic approach to strengthen the education system’s capacity to support access to quality education opportunities for children in Yemen
“With each semester that passes, our education continues to deteriorate due to the disasters afflicting our country – starting with the war and ending with COVID-19. Beyond the shortage of teachers, educational curricula no longer meet the high quality we need to continue advancing and growing.” says Maraseel Alsaqaf, 19 years old, about her final year at Taibah Girls School in Taizz, Yemen.
Amidst a six-year civil war, mass displacement, systemic unemployment, and widespread famine, the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of over one quarter of Yemenis who have contracted the virus. This is five times the global average, and there is reason to believe that a large proportion of cases are undiagnosed and, in the community, spreading in silence. Given the lack of testing capacity and under-reporting, only critical cases are being tested in southern governorates, and the situation in northern governorates remains unclear due to a lack of information.
While this is surely a global health and cross-sectoral emergency, it is also an education and learning emergency – one that threatens to leave long-lasting impacts on children’s safety and well-being. As of 16 March 2020, all schools, universities and learning institutes were closed nationwide, and prevented 5.8 million students (including 2.5 million girls) from completing their school year.
The unfolding crisis has put a further strain on an already overstretched and fragmented education system, and calls for alternative learning platforms, strategies, and teaching methods. This has been felt on every level, including by teachers like 33-year-old Mona Almatari from Wadi Hala village:
“My happiest moment was when I completed my Intermediate Diploma Certificate and started teaching students in my region. I am saddened and disheartened that schools have been closed due to the pandemic.”
When schools shut their doors
School closures lead to a loss of routine, peer support, and social interactions that are necessary for learning, psychological and professional development, and mental well-being. Throughout years of the conflict, children in Yemen have shown many psychological symptoms, including withdrawal, anxiousness, fear, anger, sadness, restlessness, regression, and accompanying sleeplessness, nightmares, and hyperactivity. This has been compounded by the COVID-19 outbreak that is lurking at the country’s doorstep.
Sixteen-year-old Fatimah Shaker, who is in grade 9 at Rabea’a Al-Adaweyah School in Sana’a, points out: “Our school year was disrupted from the pandemic. After a while, we returned to school and our final exams were announced. Because we were unable to complete our curriculum, the tests were very difficult. This past year was the worst for me and, I believe, for my entire community.”
Since distance and e-learning platforms are not widely used in Yemen, students, teachers, and governing bodies need to be supported. Specifically, there is an opportunity to build upon the Ministry of Education’s auxiliary programs that are broadcasted throughout educational channels, local channels (TV and radio), and that can also be disseminated via audio, visual, print, online, and social media.
Fortunately, since September 2020, UNICEF has been working with the Ministry of Education to support children’s education by developing home-based learning strategies and modalities. This includes producing and broadcasting basic education lessons on TV, radio, and developing mobile learning apps and electronic lessons. More broadly, the partnership aims to strengthen the capacity of teachers and administrators to foster a safe learning environment for when students return to the classroom.
Educational authorities in Sana’a were able to facilitate national exams for students in grades 9 and 12. Of the 427,650 students who completed the exams, 356,959 (or 83 per cent) received passing grades. The exams began on 15August 2020 and were held in 14 Yemeni governorates in 4,250 centers.
Funding from Education Cannot Wait (ECW) was used to fill critical gaps and helped to ensure that the implementation went smoothly. The organization was established during the 2016 United Nations’ World Humanitarian Summit by international humanitarian and development aid actors, along with public and private donors, to help reposition education as a priority on the humanitarian agenda, usher in a more collaborative approach among actors on the ground, and drive funding to ensure that every crisis-affected child and young person is in school and learning. Within Yemen, funds were used to print materials that raised awareness about proper sanitation (approximately 200,000 posters and 3,407 banners) in the exam centers.
Going forward, the partnership aims to increase access to education for crisis-affected girls and boys in Yemen through remote learning and safe school preparedness plans.
UNICEF Yemen takes a multi-pronged strategic approach to strengthen the education system’s capacity to support access to quality education opportunities for children in Yemen. This includes: strengthening national education systems, ensuring that children have equitable access to formal, non-formal and/or alternative learning opportunities and improving school functionality and child-friendly learning environments.