Yemen: Keeping education going amid conflict

First grader at Al-Hamzi school, smiling to the camera, Hajjah, March 2021. Credit: UNICEF/UN0459559/Marish
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Story highlights

  • GPE has responded to the changing needs of Yemen’s education system during over 7 years of conflict, helping sustain access to education and prevent the system from collapse.
  • With GPE’s support, Yemen, through inclusive participation of education partners, developed a transitional education plan and strengthened sector coordination as well as the humanitarian-development nexus.
  • The power of partnership has led to the mobilization of resources critical to the realization of Yemen’s goals: keep schools open and ensure students learn in a safe environment.
Map of Yemen

This story was written in collaboration with UNICEF Yemen.

Over 2 million children in war-torn Yemen have found themselves unable to go to school since conflict erupted in 2015. Millions more have experienced disruption to their learning.

Attacks on students, teachers and education infrastructure have had a devastating impact on children’s opportunity to learn. The number of schools damaged in the hostilities rose from 234 in 2015 to over 2,550 by the end of 2021.

In addition to damage, some school buildings are used by armed groups or for hosting internally displaced persons. Ongoing conflict, forced displacement and inoperative schools have contributed to the disruption of the education system.

  • 12-year-old Ahmed sits on the rubble of his damaged school, Al-Hamzi School, Hajjah, Yemen.
    Credit: UNICEF/UN0459558/Marish

Yemen was one of the first countries to join GPE. Since 2003, the country has received GPE grants worth US$187 million.

Throughout the period of conflict, this support has helped avert a complete collapse of the education system in Yemen by remaining flexible and responsive to the immediate sector needs within the politically divided and fluid context of the country.

For example, grant activities that began in 2014 were reassessed in 2015 to address the need to rehabilitate schools damaged by armed conflict and provide psychosocial support to students and basic supplies to schools.

GPE’s partnership model brings together key stakeholders, including government, education development partners and civil society organizations within and outside of the country, to provide critical support to Yemeni children.

  • Girls in Al-Hamzi in their class in Al-Hamzi school, Hajjah.
    Credit: UNICEF/UN0459555/Marish

  • Students inside the classroom in Al Tadhamoun School in Sana’a, Yemen.
    Credit: UNICEF/UN0616922/Haleem

Rehabilitating schools and supporting students

Thanks to GPE funding, and with UNICEF overseeing grant activities, 247 schools have been rehabilitated, and more than 500 schools have received over 46,500 new desks.

In excess of 98,000 students have received psychosocial support, 86,800 students have received basic learning supplies, and 10,400 students have been provided with daily healthy meals.

  • UNICEF holds psychosocial support (PSS) training programs for facilitators so that they are equipped to provide PSS services to displaced youth in Marib, Yemen.
    Credit: UNICEF/UN0674352/Alsharabi

Additionally, over 6,870 schools and their communities benefited from school grants of US$1,500 each to be used for small repairs and maintenance, supplies, and teaching, learning and recreational materials. This support is essential to keep the schools open and functioning.

  • New stationary provided through the support of UNICEF to Al Tadhamoun School in Sana’a, Yemen.
    Credit: UNICEF/UN0616952/Haleem

Malak, a 16-year-old secondary school student, reads a book in the library of Aden Model School, which received a school grant, in Aden, Yemen. Credit: UNICEF/UN0620706/Fuad
“The school environment has improved greatly since this project started. Now we have water in the bathrooms and everything we need to study.”
Malak
16-year-old student, Aden Model High School

Keeping girls in school

The majority of children out of school in Yemen today are girls—especially in remote rural areas. As if conflict is not enough of a challenge to their chance of getting an education, other barriers, such as early marriage, make it even harder for girls to access learning.

In some governorates, two-thirds of girls marry before they turn 18, often dashing their hopes of staying in school.

Eman, a teacher at Al-Haj Naser Muthana School for girls in AlDhale’e Governorate, Yemen. Credit: UNICEF/UN0550367/Hayyan
“I met a girl who got married when she was just about 12 years old. She left school because of the marriage, but then she got divorced. When I met her, and she told me her story, I began to convince her to return to her studies. She did, and now that girl is in high school.”
Eman
Teacher, Al-Haj Naser Muthana School for girls, AlDhale’e Governorate

Additionally, parents have concerns about sending their daughters to school, ranging from unsafe environments, a lack of female teachers, and long distances to schools from home.

Jawaher Mohammed, a 16-year-old secondary school student, in class at Al-Haj Naser Muthana School for girls in Al Dhale’e Governate, Yemen. Credit: UNICEF/UN0550366/Hayyan
“I have many friends who stopped studying because the school is too far and most parents do not want their daughters to be taught by male teachers.”
Jawaher
16-year-old student, Al-Haj Naser Muthana School for girls, AlDhale’e Governorate

In Yemen, the lack of female educators, particularly in rural areas, reduces opportunities for girls to learn and thrive, so the GPE program has focused on this issue.

GPE funds enabled 2,162 female teachers to be hired to work in remote areas, which encouraged young girls to enroll.

Initially, the program aimed to support 1,600 rural female teachers, helping convert their employment status from temporary to regular under the government budget. Due to the conflict, they were unable to be hired as regular teachers.

GPE funding continued support to the 1,600 teachers for 8 years, as well as to an additional 700 teachers whose salaries were at risk due to the suspension of a World Bank program.

As female teachers are role models in rural communities, they play a key role in advocacy and outreach to families, which is critical in addressing barriers to girls’ education. GPE will continue to support these teachers for the next 3 years through new grants.

  • Students raise their hands during class, Taizz, Yemen, 2021.
    Credit: UNICEF/UN0460333/Al-Basha

Data and evidence for better planning

To provide quality education and course-correct as needed in a volatile context, Yemen needs access to—and the capacity to act upon—reliable and timely data and evidence.

In consultation with key partners, including UNICEF, UNESCO, and the World Food Programme, and with GPE funding, the government has developed a strategic action plan and a roadmap to strengthen data collection and evidence-based planning. The country is on its way to holding its first education data census since 2015.

To date, 14 Governorate Education Offices (GEOs) and 63 District Education Offices (DEOs) have received education management information system (EMIS) equipment. Districts with a shortage of electricity also received solar panels to run the equipment.

Specialists from the central, GEO and DEO levels were trained in the use of software in human resources, school mapping, statistics and EMIS programming.

Strengthening capacity to provide education

Crucial to the education system is a sector plan that presents the policies and strategies for national education reform. When a country is in crisis and unable to prepare a long-term plan, it develops a short-term transitional plan to lay the foundation for a full plan and keep the system running in the short-term.

GPE, along with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and UNESCO, provided technical and financial assistance to Yemen to develop and operationalize a 3-year transitional plan, which was approved by the government and endorsed by education development partners.

Yemen’s Transitional Education Plan 2019–2021 provided a strategic vision for the country's education sector as well as a framework for effective coordination and oversight of education implementation.

The plan prioritized access, quality and management, outlined strategies to address the challenges of the ongoing crisis, and focused on maintaining basic and secondary education.

  • Members of Yemen's local education group meet in October 2022 in Cairo, Egypt.
    Credit: GPE/Muhammad Tariq Khan

Strong sector coordination

Since the escalation of conflict in 2015, Yemeni education partners—through GPE's support—have regularly convened, keeping engaged even when some had to suspend their operations in the country.

Partners have provided input on how best to restructure GPE’s grant in the face of the education crisis, contributing to the maintenance of a functioning school system. The regular coordination also motivated other partners to provide additional financing to support education in Yemen.

Another example of strong sector coordination is the joint advocacy in 2018 by local education group members, GPE and Education Cannot Wait to highlight the plight of Yemeni teachers who had not received their salaries in 2 years.

Within weeks, this effort yielded new funding to provide teacher incentives. Most of the beneficiaries reported that their attendance improved because of the incentives, and over half said that their students’ attendance also increased.

Sector coordination and joint planning are vital to overcoming the challenges that threaten gains made in strengthening Yemen’s education system. Against all odds, education stakeholders continue to ensure that schools remain open, so students like Malak and Jawaher can learn in a safe environment.