Yemen, the poorest nation of the Arabian Peninsula has still the highest illiteracy rate in the region; 60% for women and 30% for men. The gap is explained by Yemen traditional views on female education, which in many rural settings is still perceived as unimportant or in some extreme cases contrary to a girl's good morality. In the province of al-Mahara, near the Omani border, the illiteracy rate runs at 90% among women.
While things have progressed in recent years due to foreign investments and government-run programs, 2011 uprising set back Yemen in its momentum.
Insecurity, political upheaval and a lack of funding prevented social workers and NGOs from assuming their duties, leading programs to halt all activities.
Now that Yemen is slowly piecing together its institutions the government and NGOs are working together at curbing Yemen's illiteracy history as a mean to promote sustainable economic growth and social stability.
Studies have established a clear link between high illiteracy rate and thwarted economic growth, with illiteracy acting as an inhibitor on a country's ability to perform on the world market.
A study conducted by the world Statistic Institute in 2009 found the more illiterate people there are in a country, the harder it will be for the country to develop.
Illiteracy can also affect human characteristics through abnormal psychological development and development of antisocial characteristics.
Negative effects of illiteracy
A UNESCO report in 2004 found that family illiteracy can affect children development in a negative way, preventing their psychological and emotional growth while preventing intellect maturation.
Illiteracy not only limits the full development of individuals and their participation in society, but also has repercussions throughout life, affecting a person’s family environment, restricting access to the benefits of development, and hindering the enjoyment of other human rights.
During early childhood, the effects of illiteracy can be seen within the family unit and the primary socialization process. development of intelligence, personality and social behaviour. It is during this period that millions of cells are born, grow and become interconnected. When this process of growth, development and interconnection does not take place adequately, child development is negatively affected.
Children of illiterate parents probably have few opportunities to learn communication codes, or to learn to read and write.
Moreover, illiterate adults face serious employability issues, given their low level of knowledge and expertise. This is attributable to a lack of formal schooling, caused either by an early departure from school to enter the labor market or the loss over time of the ability to read and write.
Yemen Education History
The government of Yemen out the emphasis on education from the inception of its republican system in 1962 when the Yemen Arab Republic was established.
During the 1970s, Yemen saw an expansion of basic education; however, there was a certain disparity between North and South, and they adapted very different education policies until its unification in 1990.
In 1990 the new central government sought to fuse both South and North Yemen education systems by setting up a national educational program under the leadership of the education ministry.
While South Yemen was put to its pace in the 70s by a series of program engineered by the new independent government, North Yemen had very few schools available, safe from religious schools that is, where education was limited to the memorization of the Quran.
After the unification of North and South Yemen in 1990, these two education systems were merged into a single system, and 9-3 (9 years of basic education, 3 years of secondary education) was adapted. Along with that, enrollment was diversified into the science and literary tracks in grades 11 and 12. Secondary education had a choice of academic, vocational, technical or teacher training education.
Although Yemen made some significant efforts in the education sector, trying to align itself with neighboring Arab nations, a lack of funding and political will prevented Yemen from achieving its goals.
The main educational problems in Yemen remain a weak education system, population dispersion, insufficient public funding, an institutional capacity deficit and poverty.
Many families have to rely on their children' ability to generate an income in order to survive, making it difficult if not impossible to stay in the education system.
NGOs have also complained of the state's failure to implement compulsory education, allowing illiteracy to run rampant among the poorest section of the population.
Other factors such as lack of transportation, low levels of teacher training and qualification, gaps in enrollment between boys and girls and low community participation are adding to the problem.
Help is on the way
Yemen Women's Union, a not for profit organization sponsored by the Yemen Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the country's most active advocate for women empowerment is currently working on a program which aims to lower illiteracy rate throughout the provinces with a special focus on rural areas where women are more vulnerable.
The Yemeni Women Union has worked since 1990 in education. It is the national partner with the Literacy Eradication Authority and manages more than 10% of all literacy classes in Yemen and in some governorates it manages more than 50% of all classes. It also works on raising awareness about the importance of girls education and having girls who had dropped out of schools join regular schools or literacy classes.
The Yemeni Women Union is one of the largest organizations is providing the service of illiteracy eradication and adult education. 10% of the literacy classes in the Republic of Yemen are managed by YWU.