The education of children in Yemen has already been severely affected by conflict and COVID-19 came as an additional strain.

Ali Qasim

The school year for primary education was launched on 4th October in southern Yemen following months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has disrupted education in Yemen and the entire world, hindering access to learning for millions of children. Yemen has so far recorded 2,047 cases of the coronavirus amidst fears that the diseases could overstretch the country’s war-battered health system and cause havoc.

Schools are reopening with strict prevention measures, including social or physical distancing, disinfection, regular sanitizing and handwashing. The education of children in Yemen has already been severely affected by conflict and COVID-19 came as an additional strain. 

“Starting School Year”

Muna Omar Mauthah, 9 years old, in the third grade at Raydan Primary School, Al-Mualla district, Aden governorate has welcomed the first day at school with extreme joy and happiness. “I was feeling so sad because of the school closure and the inability to meet my friends that I use to play and study with”. The little girl was so happy while expressing her emotions, she added “My family tried to compensate for that by reviewing my lessons at home, they are so keen to see me and my brothers completing our education.”

Schools are the safest place for children, a place where children are able to learn, grow, foster their potential, acquire the skills they need for the future, ask questions and learn to solve problems. But schools go beyond learning: they are a place that gives the children confidence, a place where children play, make friendships that often last a lifetime. With the return to school in Yemen, you can see the difference immediately, you can feel the passion in the eyes of the students and their teachers, you can see the energy at the early morning times in the streets while the children are heading to their schools.

During the outset of the second semester of the last year, the educational process was affected in all schools in Aden, Lahj, AlDhale’e and Abyan governorates. Teachers stopped to teach and were asking for better living conditions. Education was interrupted and teachers remained outside classrooms, that deprived hundred thousands of children of their right for education.

Maram Helmi Saleh, 13 years old, in the eighth grade at Osam Model Primary School says, “Our learning and development has been affected because we were not going to school, my knowledge of  the subjects of this year is weak as we haven’t finished the rest of the past year curriculum.”  

To ensure a safe return to learning, UNICEF has worked closely with the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders in developing plans and guidelines for a smooth and careful return of children to the schools. By providing essential protective equipments like masks, hand sanitizers, thermometers, working on disinfecting schools and rehabilitating its Water and Sanitation facilities and providing it with soap and water, UNICEF has assisted the Ministry of Education to be ready and well prepared for a safe return of the school year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. But in a country like Yemen where the resources are so limited and the needs are enormous, education departments are still struggling to overcome several challenges including limited teachers and the crumbling school infrastructure.

“ Re-opening the schools amid COVID-19 was a huge challenge for us, we have set some systems and measures to avoid the crowding in classrooms by dividing the students into three shifts and that has put us in a severe shortage of teachers who won’t be able to cover all these classrooms”. Moh’d AlRoqaiby, the Director of Aden Education Office said.

“We appreciate the continuous support from UNICEF, but the educational process in Aden and other nearby governorates is facing tremendous challenges, we are in dire need of printing more school textbooks and constructing additional classrooms, all these pressing needs are impeding the delivery of quality education to our children in the schools,” the education official added.

“We need additional 1,500 teachers to match the student population, we need sustainable water and electricity supply all some schools. In some schools’ students learn without electricity amid soaring temperatures in the city”. He also explained that the number of students enrolled increases by 30% every year, while they can’t provide all such needs that match the rising student numbers each year” Moh’d AlRoqaiby added.

Every child deserves to have an equal and fair opportunity to access education. Unless the education sector is prioritized, we will see a reversal in progress made to increase access to education and a setback to the quality of education provided to millions of children in Yemen.

“A Profession Overcoming Challenges” 

“Dealing with teachers’ strike and precautionary measures in place will help educational institutions to be better.”, Hanan Mansour Salem, the headmaster of Owsan Model School says.

“Our main task is to convince all stakeholders of the importance of education. Students’ return to schools is the best way to secure a better future for our children.”, she added.

 Raja’a Kahtan, the headmaster of Raydan Primary School, confirms that it is a great responsibility on the educational sector in Yemen to operate the educational system as in the past.” she says while praising the support provided by UNICEF that have included organizing training programs for students, parents, and teachers on psycho-social support, peace-building, and active learning, as well as the distribution of school bags, scientific bags of Science and Maths subjects, hygiene kits, masks, and sanitizers to all school levels from one to nine.

Without any doubts, the return of learning in Yemen is surrounded by multiple challenges and is compounded by COVID-19 which seems far from over. Children in Yemen deserve to live moments of peace inside their schools, they deserve to learn, enjoy, thrive and dream for a better future through quality education.