Yemen’s school children have begun a new educational year facing a new shortage - school text books.
About five million Yemeni children started the new school year, with 600,000 new students entering the first class of primary school, according to the Ministry of Education.
But for many of those children, their learning is being hampered by a lack of text books.
High school student Ekhlas al-Baidhani says she couldn’t prepare for the New Year.
“Receiving the scheduled books on time is important. I should be receiving the books before I start the school year. In fact, I should receive the books scheduled for the year ahead before the end of the old year so I can establish some background knowledge and prepare myself for the new school year and this would, in return, improve my school work.”
Since last year's revolt against 33 years of rule by Ali Abdullah Saleh, when state control in outlying regions broke down as the army split into pro- and anti-Saleh factions and al Qaeda militants occupied some areas, Yemen has been in turmoil.
The unrest has not only affected the country’s political situation, but has also worsened its already weak economic and financial situation. The protests paralyzed the Yemeni government; the humanitarian situation has deteriorated and poverty and food shortages have increased, with up to half of all Yemenis going hungry.
Mother of two school students Um Saddam said that she couldn’t supply her children with the textbooks and was worried how it would impact on their educational attainment.
“They have just handed over books to my two children, who are twins, only four books each, and as for the other books we will have to follow-up until we get them. I do not know when we will get them, or when the children will learn. Half term will probably near before children are able to learn anything.”
The Yemeni Ministry of Education aims to provide 50 percent of school textbooks for the majority of schools in the country.
But Sana’a teacher Abdul Kaliq al-Suraihi says the lack of books was affecting learning.
“A lot of students use the excuse of having no textbook to justify not doing their homework, they say how can we write the homework, teacher? This is a major problem we suffer from in this academic year.”
Some state schools administrations have tried to reuse textbooks, distributing them again amongst students to cover shortages, but they can't reuse textbooks for elementary school students, which have already been written in.
“We can cover nearly 50 percent of our books shortage, but there are levels that cannot be covered, such as the first and the second and third (primary education), these levels cannot be covered with old books because the new student cannot use an already used book which old students have written on it. Also, it is difficult for young primary students to keep their books in good conditions, they often get ripped,” said Head teacher Inas Taher.
An official at the Yemeni ministry of Education said the political and financial crisis of the past two years has affected educational textbook production.
Abdullah Abu Huriah, the Director General of Press textbook, said the company had printed almost 70 percent of school texts to date and hoped to have the rest ready during October.
“So far, we have processed about 60 to 70 percent of textbooks for this academic year. The rest of the books, God willing, will be printed during the month of October.”
Normal production levels in times of stability were between 45 to 50 million textbook a year, Huriah said. But a lack of power had affected supply over the past 18 months.
“As you know, electricity was out of service at a rate ranging from 70 to 80 percent during the past year and a half and this has, in return, affected our production at our three branches in Sana'a, Aden and Mukalla. It was one of the main obstacles to our printing machine for a long period of time.”
Restoring stability to Yemen has become an international priority due to fears that al Qaeda and other Islamist militants could become entrenched in a country which neighbors oil producer Saudi Arabia and lies on major shipping lanes.
Saleh was forced to stand down in February after over 2,000 people died. Came said there were now 500,000 internally displaced Yemenis after the fight with militants in the south and Saleh’s 2009/10 war against Shi'ite Islamists known as Houthis north of Sanaa.
International donors pledged $1.46 billion in aid to the country of 24 million at a meeting in New York on Thursday (September 27) attended by President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who said the pledge would help Yemen avoid a civil war.