Sunday, November 11, 2012

Recommendations to Improve Yemeni Education for Women

Reflections

All of the previously mentioned challenges (see previous post) are exacerbated by the current revolution. The country is now witnessing a period of transition while struggling to prevent complete chaos. In the coming few months, the country will refocus its attention on pressing issues. The government will address the issues of the southern separatists who since 2007 have organized demonstrations against the North’s central government and the corrupt system in place. They will also try to extend influence over the governorate of Sa’ada where a war has been raging between the government and Al-Huthi rebels (named after Husain Al-Huthi) since 2004 (Khalife 8). Furthermore, with the international media directing its attention on the “war on terror”, the interest in the issue of female education dwindles to the background. These factors may dishearten many individuals, however, like Gene Sharp, in From Dictatorship to Democracy, recommends that oppressed populations develop a “grand strategy” that is unique to their circumstances in order to “muster sufficient self-confidence and strength” (51). A well-organized women’s movement can achieve a lot especially because the country is preparing for a new political era. Most importantly, women in Yemen (on a grassroots level) need to advance their agenda in the near future if there are any hopes for real change:

Women should not trust men to liberate them after the revolution, in part, because there is no reason to think they would know how; in part because there is no necessity for them to do so. In fact, their immediate self-interest lies in our continued oppression. Instead we must have our own organizations and our own power base. (Hartmann 188)
Recommendations
Constitutional Amendments: 

Yemeni Parliament, Image via FANACK


The Yemeni government is drafting a new constitution. Now is the ideal time to stand up against child marriages and fight for female education. Previous efforts to combat child marriages have failed. In 2009, the majority of the parliament agreed to set the minimum age of marriage to 17; however due to powerful opposition from some conservatives, the law has yet to pass. In 2010, the Shari’a Legislative Committee issued a document listing all the reasons why an age limit should not be set. Furthermore, a fatwa or legal pronouncement was issued stating that setting a marriage age would contradict the will of God (khalife 21). Now, in 2012, with a new government in charge, it is the time to continue these legal struggles in hopes that the political process will be more transparent. The religious leaders need to use ijtihad to reach a new conclusion about child marriages after acknowledging the health consequences that are facing these young women. It is important in Islam that the leaders take accountability for the well-being of their people. It is essential that the population understands the benefits of delaying marriage and to not equate a delay in marriage to an abolishment of the institution. Also, through the use of qiyas or analogical reasoning, the Islamic clerics can deduct that the times have changed like Sheikh Abdullah Al-Manie of Saudi Arabia. He believes that the prophet’s marriage to young ‘Aisha “cannot be equated with child marriages today because the conditions and circumstances are not the same” (“No religious Reason for Child Brides”).

It is important to make a point of following in the footsteps of successful Muslim nations where a legal age for marriage is determined. Delaying the age of marriage and promoting female education will lead to the well being of the new country as a whole. Although education was obligatory in 2001, the law was not applied. The laws obliging students to attend schools need to be part of the new constitution with penalties for families that prevent their children from going to school at least until the age of 13. It is important that Yemen commits to improving the learning conditions of its people and by adding it to the constitution, the people can then demand it from the government. According to the Youth’s Human Rights Group (YHRG), the laws of Yemen “guarantee the right of women to equality” so women should take position of these rights. 

Promoting Female Education in the Community


Image via UNICEF


Parents and women need to know about their rights and all the benefits of girls acquiring an education over an early marriage. Informative statistics can be broadcasted through the radios and televisions (songs or plays). In addition, due to the increasing religious nature of the country in the past 20 years, it is important that religious clerics emphasize the importance of education in Islam. After all, the first words that the prophet Muhammed uttered, ‘iqra’ or read, highlight the significance of education in Islam. Also, the popular saying “al ilm Noor” or knowledge is enlightenment can be applied. Mothers can play a significant role in the community by urging husbands to permit their daughters to seek education. The community also needs to be connected to the schools around them, the community can maintain a school and in turn the students can provide community service in return.
Development of Rural Areas

The research findings reveal that most of the schools are located in urban areas and that girls living in rural areas are the most illiterate. The new government should invest in the development of the underdeveloped regions by paving roads and providing important facilities such as school and hospitals. These improvements would create job opportunities for the villagers; therefore improving their economic condition. For example, Al-Mekhlafy reports living in a village which was underdeveloped (water had to be fetched and fire had to be generated from wood), now this village is a town with electricity and piped drinking water. Along with these improvements, the gross enrollment ratio (GER) is 100% (270). When a region is more developed, it also facilitates transportation to and from schools.


Educational Reforms


In the future, there is a possibility that Yemen will embrace federalism. If this occurs, I believe that education should be the responsibility of the federal government to ensure that the less developed and more conservative governorates do not ignore education. If the future government decides that education should be left for each governorate to decide then the federal government should provide monetary funds and incentives for governorates that achieve progress.


1. Redesigning the Education Curriculum: 

According Al-Mekhlafey, the Ministry of Education “has realized that basic education reform will not be effective without secondary education reform” (276). The current curriculum of grades 1-9 has been the same since 1994 and is written primarily by Islah educational experts. It lacks relevant instruction and is outdated in the topics it addresses. If the creation of an authentic program proves to be difficult, then the Ministry of Education can model its books after an Arabic or Muslim country with high educational standards. These refinements can lead the students to a better educational experience and better character growth. It is recommended that the Ministry of Education implements Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is as follows:
Benjamin Bloom classified the cognitive process into six major levels arrange in a hierarchical order. Beginning with the simplest level and increasing in complexity, the cognitive levels are: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation...Our Studies showed that students report more effective learning when they are engaged in higher order cognitive activities. Even in the opinion of professional engineers, faculty should engage students in higher level cognitive activities like analyse, design, develop, implement, and so on. (Goel)
All in all, the programs of study should be relevant, engaging and competing with the world’s level of education. On the whole, female students (and males) should be encouraged to participate in STEM classes (science, technology, engineering and math) in order to help improve the conditions of their own country in the 21st century. 
Image via JICA
2. Building More Girl Schools and Adding Female Teachers:
The Ministry of Education needs to provide more for the needs of girls because it is the Achilles heel of the nation’s development. If building girl schools proves too difficult, then girl dorms can be built next to schools. For instance, in Morocco, Dar Taliba de Qualité, was a boarding school for girls from rural areas. It was a successful program that helped increase female education. The Moroccan government invested in building a safe housing system for these girls and was run entirely by women. This dorm was financed by NGOs and so the families did not have to pay money and were assured that their daughters were in good hands (World Bank). 

This segregated approach to education seems to be the answer to Yemen’s educational problems. In line with the parents’ demands, providing female educators would leave families feeling safe while providing girls with future role models. Thus, enrollment in the future would increase and the drop out rates will cease. It may prove challenging to convince educated women who come from urban areas of moving to the rural areas; therefore, a special program may need to be set where a generation of rural female educators are put into place. Also, the Ministry of Education can offer higher salaries for teachers who work in more isolated areas until the conditions of rural education improve.

Creating Incentives


The Yemeni government or NGOs can create incentives for families to send their children to school. For example, schools can provide free lunches. Also, educational fees for rural families can be dropped. Girls in the schools with the worst enrollment rates can be eligible for monetary rewards that increase in accordance with their class level and grade achievements. These incentives can also be provided to poor families who feel the need to pull their daughters out of school to work in the field. A project conducted by the World Food Program gave families food and other incentives for sending their daughters to school (“Yemen: Poorest Households Receive Cash”).

Final Reflections


In 2011, Yemeni women took to the streets their frustrations, and while the country struggled with instability over the last year, families had to make due without electricity, water, or gas. While the Middle East was roaring with the uprisings, 12th grade Yemeni students had to prepare for their standardized tests regardless of the fact that schools were suspended for months. In the midst of the uprisings, the results of this national exam were released by the Ministry of Education and revealed that 11 out of the top 13 highest scores in humanities across the country were occupied by girls. Also, out of the only two students with the highest scores in the English scientific exams; one was a girl. Finally, more than half of the 18 students with the highest scores in the scientific exam, 11 girls received the highest scores (Ministry of Education 2011). 


Women in Yemen are capable of achieving their ambitions; however it is poverty, child marriages, cultural traditions and, most importantly, lack of educational opportunities that are standing in their way. Of all the challenges that the country continues to face, improving female literacy in Yemen is the obvious and most effective solution in establishing a developed nation. Providing Yemeni women with the opportunities they deserve as equal citizens will elevate the conditions of women and the the nation as a whole. Without the active support and help of the female half of the population, the country will never be able to achieve its democratic aspirations.


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