Educational Challenges in Yemen: How the Conflict Puts Education at Risk?

Written by Müge Çınar

What has been happening in Yemen since 2015?

Yemen has ancient roots at the Middle East, Asia, and Africa crossroads, and the Republic of Yemen is a relatively new established state. It was created in 1990 following the unification of communist South Yemen with North Yemen. 

The wave of protests in Yemen in 2011 was affected by the Arab Spring, Yemen has been suffering civil wars, jihadist violence, tribalism, and extreme poverty since then.

Furthermore, the suffering brought on by the current war since 2015 between a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, a Shia militia supported by Iran (World Bank, 2019). The Saudi-led coalition was provided logistical and intelligence support from the US, UK, and France. According to the UN, both sides in the war have committed war crimes. However, both sides refused the allegations (World Bank, 2023).

Long before the current crisis began, the politicization of education in Yemen was an issue. To begin with, neither a license nor any type of supervision was required for religious schools, which predate government-run public schools and higher education institutions (Nagi, 2021). Yet, the conflict exacerbated the collapse of education in the country which was already weak in its educational system.

In general, the North and the South each have their independent educational system (Taher et al., 2022). Each of the parties engaged prioritizes military development while ignoring every aspect of progress, such as education. To serve their own ideological and political objectives, each of these systems is making considerable changes to education, yet the quality of education is declining in both places. Children are unable to attend schools due to conflict, displacement, the spreading of diseases, lack of infrastructure, and gender discrimination.

A group of children, displaced by fighting in the Yemeni city of Hodediah, participate in catch-up classes in the Rabat camp near the Yemeni city of Aden. Photo by Peter Biro

Conflict-related Education Difficulties

Attacks against schoolchildren, teachers, and educational infrastructure, since the conflict started, have affected the educational system and millions of children’s access to learning opportunities. Yemen is experiencing a serious education crisis, which will have devastating long-term effects on children (Education in Yemen,  UNICEF, 2023).

Around 11 million Yemeni children require humanitarian aid, and more than 2.4 million school-age boys and girls are not attending school (UNICEF, 2023). Many families are unable to bring their children to school because of the cost of food and other school-related expenses (Battling Hunger and Ensuring Yemeni Children Can Get Back to School, 2023).

According to UNICEF statistics, more than two million children are not enrolled in school, and many millions require assistance to enrol, and more than 20% of all primary and secondary schools are closed (ICRC, 2022). Students and teachers have been killed or injured on their way to school. Numerous families are no longer sending their children to school, especially girls, due to the danger and financial effects of the conflict. The psychological effects of violence mitigate the educational performance of the children since many children have only ever known life in conflict. 

At least one out of every four educational facilities has been destroyed, damaged, or put to other uses over the past eight years. 58% of these schools are damaged by conflict and 30% are used as quarantine centres or occupied by armed groups (Save the Children International, Save the Children Yemen, 2021).

Under international humanitarian law, war parties are required to take all necessary precautions to safeguard civilians and civilian infrastructure. Long-lasting harm results from violence against students, educators, and institutions of higher learning. It also makes the education system harder to recover after the conflict.

Displacement Problem

Ongoing conflict forces people to move to other areas of the country. Displaced people have had their access to education cut off suddenly because of their displacements. The 1.5 million school-aged internally displaced children, the 870,495 girls and boys with disabilities, and the more than 2 million kids who are not in school are the most at risk (OCHA, 2023). Between September and October 2022, UNHCR and Deem for Development Organization renovated the classrooms at the schools with funding from a Quick Impact Project (QIP) (OCHA, 2023).

International organizations and communities are on a mission to reach children who need health and education assistance in the displaced and hard-to-reach places. OCHA, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNFPA, and others participated in the mission.

Lack of Access to Healthcare and WASH Facilities

Many people in Yemen also lack access to healthcare and nutrition services. 540,000 children live in a condition with acute malnutrition and insufficient health services. Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) need for children are more common in the areas of new displacement and rural areas. Shelter and WASH assistance is the most important factor for children to pursue their education. In 2023, more than 8.6 million school-children will need assistance according to UNOCHA (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023).

The result of the war is damage to infrastructure and import disruption of fuel causing 61% of the Yemeni’s lack of access to water and 42% of the population to have not enough sanitation (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023). The sheer amount of time spent delivering water also harms the educational opportunities for children. With no choice but to go to the water points twice a day and carry plastic water containers on their heads, many children have been forced to quit school (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023).

The events to improve access to safe water were officially launched on February 2022 by IOM and YHF (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023). Many kids can go back to school and finish their education, particularly girls. The project also unlocks the ability of the people to engage in agriculture and other livelihood activities.

Spreading Diseases and Urgent Immunization of the Children

“The prolonged crisis and the lack of funding for the HRP threaten food insecurity, which could result in famine, disease outbreaks, and epidemics,” said Na’aem Al Khulaidi, program coordinator for the Tamdeen Youth Foundation (OCHA, Issue 2, 2023). For instance, polio has frighteningly returned to Yemen years after the country was declared free of the deadly illness.

Significant infectious disease outbreaks, including some that could have been prevented by vaccination, such as cholera, diphtheria, dengue, measles, and the reappearance of vaccine-derived polioviruses, were influenced by the conflict. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the health condition even worse.

A new level of complication was introduced for the millions of school children in Yemen with the Covid-19 pandemic. For the millions of boys and girls in Yemen, After many cases of illness were reported in March 2020, schools closed and stayed closed for six months. Although the reopening the schools, many children had not gone back to classes (ECW in Yemen, 2023).

Having suffered from the Covid-19 pandemic, Yemen is dealing with rising cases of poliovirus. 228 children have been paralyzed due to poliovirus in 2021 in Yemen. In Yemen, there were about 22,000 cases of measles in 2022, with 161 casualties. There have been 9,418 cases reported in 2023, and 77 children have died (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023).

Low immunization rates of vaccine-preventable diseases among children are a very dangerous situation for them to attend school. Many children’s families are not able to afford hospitalization costs (OCHA, Issue 3, 2023). While there have been numerous polio and measles vaccination campaigns over the past two years in the southern regions, children in the northern regions are particularly in danger due to the ongoing deadlock over additional immunization efforts there (OCHA, Issue 3, 2023).

A group of children, displaced by fighting in the Yemeni city of Hodediah. Photo by Peter Biro

Gender Inequality

The patriarchally-oriented cultural and religious institutions continue to be the principal opponent of female education. The government and international organizations strive to alter the mindset of the current families to forbid their daughters from pursuing education by launching various campaigns in rural areas, reinforcing the social norms that they have built (Ballout, 2023). Nevertheless, dropouts of the school-girls are at risk of child marriage, while boys are recruited by armed groups.

The most affected gender by the displacement is females. Bureaucratic obstacles prohibit women to travel without a company of a close family member. This has created a great impact on women to access and pursue education (OCHA, Issue 1, 2023). The increase in mahram requirements and mostly AA-controlled areas worsened the gender gap in education, resulting in a wide gender gap in literacy and basic education.

The country’s economic struggle plays a part in gender inequality too. Getting a very minimum income affects Yemeni households’ purchasing power. Weak economical conditions affect women’s conditions and children’s education.  It will have a domino effect and raise the danger of gender-based violence and other abuses among women and girls. Children will have less access to school and more cases of family dissolution, child labour, child marriage, and child trafficking (OCHA, 2022).

Insufficient Incentives to the Teachers

Yemen’s education system is in danger of collapsing, which will have an impact on both school-age males and females. The conflict that has lasted for years, the economy’s downfall, and the COVID-19 pandemic have all restricted access to schooling. Structured learning is still impacted by the insufficient payment of teachers’ salaries.

Since 2016, the majority of teachers in governorates (or 61% of the teaching staff) have received poor allowances. When teachers are paid, the amounts are little and paid slowly, which disincentivizes them for work and forces them to look for side jobs to support their income (Education in Yemen, 2023). Also, most teachers lead to quitting their jobs which risks nearly four million children losing access to education (Nagi, 2021). Every year, a number of teachers and students flee from the country, and a large portion of these individuals are the most qualified ones.

Another important problem is that there are not sufficient teacher training programs, causing qualified teachers to remain very less. The gender gap between the teachers is also very wide. Teachers are mainly male with 80%, which creates a lack of female teachers.

Teachers as well as students have suffered from this constant struggle and even exploited it against one another. Teachers and students were recruited to collaborate with the tribes that were engaged in this conflict. Peace and education are being replaced by conflict and political beliefs that serve the interests of parties and tribes. The students quit school and decide to ally themselves with the tribes that will pay for their families basic needs. This includes teachers who have gone for years without receiving payment (Taher et al., 2022).


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Featured image: Yemeni children play in the rubble of buildings destroyed in an air raid, Photo by Biro

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