War threatens as Yemeni children return to school | New

August is fast approaching, which in Yemen means that millions of students will return to school.

But with the ongoing conflict in the country and the struggling education sector, not all teachers and students are enthusiastic.

Education in Yemen has been a casualty of war since it began in 2014, and especially since the military intervention of the Saudi-led coalition in 2015.

Schools have been damaged or destroyed, teachers quit their jobs and millions of school-aged children have dropped out or are not enrolled at all.

The civil war between Houthi rebels allied with Iran and the internationally recognized government has overshadowed the importance of education for a multitude of citizens.

Ammar Saleh, who has been teaching for a decade, says students and teachers have had to deal with the effects of war.

“I hope this new school year will take place in a peaceful climate where students can safely go to their classrooms, receive an education and focus on their homework,” said Saleh, currently a teacher in a school. Private Sanaa, to Al Jazeera. “I miss the days of teaching without fear of air raids, bombings or fuel crises.”

He now hopes that the ongoing UN-brokered truce, which is due to end on August 2 but could be extended, will lead the warring parties to reach agreements that will benefit Yemen, and in particular the education sector.

UN reports indicate that more than 2,900 schools in Yemen have been “destroyed, damaged or used for non-educational purposes”. As a result, approximately 1.5 million school-aged girls and boys were affected.

Despite this, parties to the conflict in Yemen have abandoned education as a priority.

About 170,000 teachers in Houthi-controlled provinces have not received a regular salary since 2016, forcing many to leave their posts to earn a living in other fields.

Those who stayed are now frustrated.

“As this school year begins, we call on the Houthi authorities and the Yemeni government to pay us our unpaid salaries. It was their struggles that put us in misery,” Amal, a public school teacher in Sanaa, told Al Jazeera.

Amal teaches math and says teaching is the only job she knows.

“We [teachers] feed students’ minds with information. But we need income to feed our children with food. If we continue to do this work without reward, it may mean that our effort is not important to society. It’s discouraging.

Amatallah Alhaji, director of the Yemen-based Arwa Organization for Development, Rights and Freedoms, told Al Jazeera that denying Yemeni teachers their salaries has dealt a huge blow to education in the country. .

“Closing teachers’ salaries has hampered the educational process and deepened poverty. Without being paid, teachers cannot commit to work or even travel to schools far from their homes.

Disadvantaged students flee schools

The primary focus of warring parties in Yemen is the battlefield, not the classroom.

Consequently, the school dropout rate has increased.

UN reports estimate that 2.4 million students between the ages of 6 and 17 are out of school.

“The war in Yemen has deprived thousands of students of their right to education and schooling. This is happening because many public schools have been turned into military barracks or homes for internally displaced people,” Alhaji said.

Abdulhameed Mohammed, 15, is supposed to be in ninth grade this school year.

Instead, he tried his hand at becoming a street vendor in Sanaa.

Last summer it was ice cream and qat. Lately, he started selling bottles of cold water to drivers on a busy road.

And now that he’s making money, school isn’t so appealing.

“I work and earn money for my parents, and it’s better than spending time in school,” Mohammed told Al Jazeera. “Even if I hadn’t left school this year, I would have left next year or two years later. I know parents who have graduated from high school or college but have not found a job that matches their level of education.

Mohammed is one of millions of people who stopped pursuing their education during wartime. Countless families cannot afford education-related expenses, with the UN saying around 8 million people in Yemen need education assistance to pursue basic education .

Turn children’s minds to mines

The recruitment of child soldiers in Yemen has been a common practice during the war. Schools, especially in Houthi-controlled areas, have become centers of mobilization.

Ali, a teacher in Sanaa, said the Houthi authorities saw the recruitment of children as an integral approach to ensuring the availability of fighters.

“Summer camps held in May and June have indoctrinated thousands of students. If a child can carry a gun, load it with bullets and shoot, he’s a man. He can be a fighter. This is the Houthi group’s way of thinking,” Ali told Al Jazeera.

UN experts estimate that some 2,000 children recruited by the Houthis were killed between January 2020 and May 2021.

In April this year, the Houthi authorities in Sanaa and UNICEF signed an action plan to prevent and end child recruitment. However, the sending of children to the front line has not completely ceased.

Ali said, “Many students who participated in summer camps organized by the Houthis received ideological lessons, and now they are ready to join the fighting if ordered to do so. Their minds have been turned into mines.

Like the Houthis, the Yemeni government has recruited children in the past, but it has taken steps to curb the practice, according to UN officials.

Eight years of military hostilities and political turmoil have set Yemen back decades in many areas, including education.

“An entire generation was born and raised in the shadow of war and conflict,” Alhaji said. “Leaving this generation uneducated is shameful and will lead to great catastrophe.”

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