War is the epitome of human cruelty. It begets violence and destruction. The more it intensifies and the longer it lingers, the more human suffering increases. The thinking of warn-torn populations changes, and dreams are lost. The Yemeni war has showered pain on the people of Yemen and has harshly crippled many sectors. One such sector is education, which is considered the foundation of prosperity, development, and power for any nation.
Education is no longer a priority for many in Yemen.
Education is no longer a priority for many in Yemen. This attitude is the devolution of a blood-thirsty and merciless seven-year war. The conflict has pushed families into survival mode as they face war-imposed hardships. Going to school or university is no longer exciting, or interesting, or even possible.
When Aseel Nasser, an 18-year local in Sanaa, graduated from high school last year, he did not have an interest in going on to university. His passion for further education died because the war has entirely changed his mindset.
Nasser remembered his dreams as a fifth-grader with a cynical smile. He used to tell his parent about his ambitions to be a pilot or a physician. Today, he has dropped all his former aspirations and has adapted to the hard life the war has created.
He told Inside Arabia, “The war has altered my priorities, and education now is no more my prime focus. My focus today is to work and support myself and my family. I know how to read and write, and that is enough.”
Nasser’s story is saddening, yet he is lucky to have even finished high school. The strife has pushed millions of students out of schools and deprived millions of others from receiving any schooling at all. In conflict-stricken areas, thousands of families have been displaced, and schools have been decimated or turned into military outposts or havens for internally displaced persons.
In January, the US-based organization Education Cannot Wait (ECW) pointed out that the armed conflict has left nearly 8.1 million school-aged girls and boys in need of education and emergency support. Amongst these 8.1 million children, 1.5 million are displaced.
Indeed, the figures are shocking, and they speak volumes about the magnitude of the education crisis in Yemen. In this modern era, corporal punishment may drive students to drop out or find another school. It is hard for learners to commit to schooling as pain encircles them. But what if war continues for many more years? How will the learners rediscover their zeal and desire to learn?
More than 2,500 schools have been destroyed, damaged, or utilized for non-educational purposes.
Since the outbreak of war in 2014 and the intervention of the Saudi-Emirati led coalition in 2015 that targeted civilian infrastructure with air strikes, more than 2,500 schools have been destroyed, damaged, or utilized for non-educational purposes. It is not only students who have been forced to disregard education, but also teachers. Two-thirds of teachers in Yemen (nearly 170,000) have not received a regular paycheck since 2016. Accordingly, schools located in safe cities or villages also face serious challenges as there are not enough teachers counter illiteracy or disseminate knowledge.
The Yemen war has directly and indirectly compelled students to discontinue their education. When schools are bombed or used for non-educational purposes, children’s educations are directly impacted. The war also also cost countless families their livelihoods, which has made them unable to pay for education-related expenses.
In early May, in Sanaa, I came across a father and his son sitting on the pavement selling a basket of mangoes. I bought one kilogram, and out of curiosity, I asked, “How is work with you?” The man answered, “Thank God. It is fine. My son, you see, left school last year, and he is supporting me to earn a living. It is better now.”
I replied, “But education is better for your son. Encourage him to return to school.” He swiftly responded, “No school can provide my children and me with enough food. Only work can do that.” That mango seller’s plight is not unique. Instead, it represents millions of others forced to abandon their children’s education simply to survive.
An estimated 23.4 million people –– 73 percent of the population –– need some form of humanitarian assistance, according to 2022 reports released by the United Nations Population Fund. Eighty percent of the populace is estimated to be living under the poverty line. So long as this is the reality, what can motivate families and school-aged children to prioritize education?
The quality of education has seriously declined since the start of the conflict.
While a small fraction of families may be able to spend lavishly to educate their children in this war-ravaged nation, they cannot guarantee that their sons or daughters will land their dream jobs if this war continues. Besides, the quality of education has seriously declined since the start of the conflict, which makes certificates of education less valuable and credible, particularly outside Yemen.
Education in schools or universities has been politicized, and the warring parties think of the educational edifices as hubs for mobilization. In northern Yemen, where the Houthi group dominates, the school curricula have been modified to serve the group’s political and religious agendas. Citizens have no power to oppose any alteration to the contents of textbooks. They have to accept the reality or rob their children of their only opportunity to learn.
Abdu Sa’ad, a citizen in Sanaa, allowed his son to stop going to school last year. Sa’ad said, “I see no benefit in keeping him in school. The schooling here does not arm the learner with genuine knowledge that can help in the future. The only advantage can be the ability to read and write.” With a sense of contentment, he added, “I decided to get him a work visa and let him travel to Saudi Arabia. That made me hopeful.”
The war has robbed families in Yemen of any passion for education.
Undisputedly, the war has robbed families in Yemen of not only of peace and stability, but also of any passion for education. Should the warring sides remain at odds, choosing weapons over knowledge, Yemen must find new creative ways to address the country’s education-related needs. Schools and universities should be distanced from the partisan, political, and sectarian agendas. The teaching staff must be paid their wages regularly, and children should not be deprived of education. There is an urgent need to revive the importance of education among the people in Yemen. Otherwise, illiteracy and ignorance may continue to feed the flames of conflict.