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Citizenship Education in Yemen Citizenship Education in Yemen
by Abdullah A. Ali Sallam
2017-01-30 12:35:01
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The northern part of Yemen constituted to become an integral part of Ottoman Empire whereby, its southern part remained under the control of British after since 1839. His is when they erected wall around the port of Aden. Later in 1918, the northern part of Yemen got independence from the Ottoman Empire and declared itself as Yemen Arab republic. Accordingly, British withdrew from Southern Yemen in 1967 and then on 22nd May of 1990, the northern and southern parts merged to appear as a single nation.

Ottoman Empire (1849–1918) North Yemen

At the time of the second occupation of Yemen from 1849 till 1918, numerous educational reforms were introduced (VomBruck, 2015) [[1]]. During the year 1869, Ottoman legislators outlined that basic education is compulsory in the entire Ottoman Empire (Messick, 1992) [[2]]. This was principally introduced to bring positive developments to the primary schools where, education is to be termed as appropriate for both boys and girls which also negated the limitations upon girls to just receive Quranic education inside their houses (Messick, 1992).

Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen (Imami rule 1918-1962)

yemen01_400_02There are ample evidences suggesting that education provided was even worse than education offered in the Ottoman Empire. Yemen ranked in the bottom of the Arab area on education achievement in all subjects, there were only nineteen elementary schools with a reported illiteracy rate of 98% (Orkaby, 2014) [[3]]. The religious schools occupy students from different age groups and study capabilities. In addition, there was no any educational system that could guarantee education for all people without any discrimination.

The education system and its standards improved a little during the time of Imam Yahya son, who introduced schools and intermediate colleges for girls in three major towns. Teachers from Palestine and Egypt were employed to teach English and Geography to the students. The student body included a few wealthy landowners from major towns and the royal family (VomBruck, 2015).

Between the revaluation and Yemen unified 1962-1990

Majority of the educational reforms were potentially capable of being implemented until after 1962 revolution (Messick, 1992). The education and its importance started to proliferate across the country (Al-Amri.; Annuzaili; Al-Deram, 2003) [[4]] yet, there was no compulsion placed in this regard due to which, informal education remained strong and people relied more on it get their children learn trades and basic literacy elements. Notably, education law was placed in 1964 but even then it was not implemented due to which there were no governmental enforcements towards education till 1990.

British Occupation (1839 – 1967)

Contemporary and modern education was initiated in the southern part of Yemen yet, people accessing formal education was not very high principally because of two reasons. The first is that the British authorities were not in favor of letting local Yemenis to acquire latest skills and knowledge which may lead them to compete with them in future. Secondly, the existing local education was based on Quranic teachings which were in contrast with the contemporary education. The teachings in religious schools was of given much value as it opposed the western cultural hegemony (Akkari, 2004) [[5]]. Henceforth, there was little access to education and that too was only available for foreigners. Accordingly, the teachers were also from the Indian subcontinent (As cited in http://education.stateuniversity.com  n.d) [[6]].

Between Independence and Yemen unified 1967-1990

Socialist movement used education in the Southern part of Yemen after the evacuation on British troops to counter target Marxist group established by the natives belonging to National Liberation Front (NLF) party. During that time, NLF took over control of major economic and political stages of the country with the implementation of communist thinking in totality (Burrowes, 2010) [[7]].

On formal grounds, Yemen had its first education law passed in 1972 whereby, the dissemination of education was emphasized through the released educational curriculum (26 September report, 2011) [[8]]. In this, the major areas included social sciences, politics & economy, Arabic language and general citizenship education.

Notably, according to Davis (2014) [[9]], there was significant emphasis given towards education and also towards extra-curricular education. Individuals were also given opportunities to work and gain experience in the national organizations including Yemeni Federation of Democratic Youth (ASHDI) and the Yemeni Vanguards organizations in 1973-74. Specific topics/subjects taught in there were collectivism, labor, individualism, social trends etc. (Tahan 2012) [[10]].

Unification (1990) & the Republic of Yemen

Principally, both the states came together but from completely different ideological grounds and priorities i-e one totally tribal and other Marxist in nature. Despite of the differences, collating there education system was not complex due to the fact that both the regions had poor education levels and standards and had similar problems in the sector such as financial constraints, infrastructure issues and neglected rural areas.

The country holds the law according to which, the compulsory education till the age of 5 to 1 is free of all children yet, majority has not achieved any benefits out from it. Accordingly, there are major disparities based on gender in terms of literacy. As per UNESCO (2008)  [[11]] report, there were 91 percent literate males compared to 59 percent females during 1995-2004.

Although fact is that civic education was often regarded with disbelief in two states previously as the two regions were completely different i-e one tribal and traditional, the other Marxist but, during 1990 to 1994, there was an active political movement, encouraging political association and non-governmental organizations in Yemen which resulted in the creation of civil societies in majority of the cities.  

Right after the war in 1994, education promoting democracy was not incorporated in the core curriculum and the changes therefore were made in alignment with the political development that keep pace with one-sided victory (Abulohoom , 2013) [[12]]. It is very contradictory that the government did not stress upon teaching history and many authors have argued on it as this could have improved and helped young generation in dialogues and discussions (Young, 2010) [[13]]; ( Paulson, 2015) [[14]].  Moreover, topics related to glorification of war and conflicts from the history would have been very helpful in this regard.

Importantly, after the end of the three decade long rule of Saleh, the country faced numerous political and economic changes. The ministry of education came under the command of the political party named Joint Meeting Party (JMP) which revised the education curriculum to a certain extent. For instance, Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (saw) was included in grade 9 curriculum, prohibing the killing of other Muslims in order to discourage violence and long lasting tribal conflicts. Accordingly, verse from the Holy Quran pertaining to the promotion of coexistence and peace was also included in the religious text books so that tolerance levels could be improved.

Definition of Citizenship Education

 Within the educational official policy documents, the notion ‘citizenship ´and civic education (Muattanah مواطنة) is not used clearly neither within legal frameworks and curricula guidelines, nor through syllabuses.

There is no definition available pertaining to the idea of civic education in the official education documents of Yemen yet, material could be found promoting good societal values, loyalty to the country, care for the society and rights of the common citizen.

On a more particular note, the curriculum was not responsively effective in educating leadership, innovation, creativity and positive citizenship behaviors (Jennings & Kahn, 2007) [[15]]. Despite, the curriculum emphasizes more on negative gender based aspects (Schlaffer et al., n.d., p. 6)[[16]]. Al-Obathani (2014) [[17]] reported that there is very little focus on the teaching of human rights to students in the curriculum. Accordingly, the curriculum didn`t address gender equality issues especially related to social justice which according to Al-Arashi (2015) [[18]], could have helped reinforce social justice in the society.

Thus, regardless of their long history of being individual nations, they emphasis on remain united. The educational curriculum also mentions the 1994 civil war as a threat to the society and unity of two regions. This civil war was led by secessionist traitors who principally wanted to divide the country. However, the root causes are not discussed in detail in the curriculum (Paulson, 2015 & Young, 2010).

Legal Environment

The Yemeni constitution does not mention what they mean by citizenship hence, the general definition of citizenship is underlined here. The definition denotes to establishing the foundation of equal public rights and responsibilities for all the citizens.

As per article 54 of the Yemeni constitution 2001 and 1992s education law article 6, every citizens of Yemen has equal right to receive education. The primary goals of the Yemeni education law are to preserve the citizens identity, character and conduct. The law pushes government officials and office bearers to strive of achieving social justice and equal opportunities for education. Similarly, the state and its office bearers are also responsible for ensuring that the goals are also achieved, according to the law.

Later in 2014, the country outlined and explained citizenship in its national dialogue papers and was distributed in the national conference where major political leaders, youth representative, members of the Southern movement, Houthies and other political parties were present. As per the document, the definition of citizenship was that all the Yemeni nationals/citizens are equal in rights and responsibilities in the eye of law and there is no discrimination or classification based on race, origin, religion, belief, opinion, economic stability, and gender (National Dialogue Conference, 2014)[[19]].


There are serious concerns pertaining to the quality of the basic education in Yemen (Dyer, 2007) [[20]]. Moreover, as per Kabeer (2001) [[21]], the quality of schooling is even worse and holds little importance amongst the decision makers in the country. This collectively results in making the country rank amongst the lowest economies in this aspect. 2014 rankings by human development index ranked Yemen 145th out of 187 countries.

Yemen is currently facing severe challenges pertaining to violence and social injustice and the country needs to take effective actions to stop disputes and fights among its major groups (van Veen, 2014) [[22]]. Henceforth, because of lack of focus from the political authorities, the entire education system is in a state of isolation where no one is ready to initiate or take any efforts for improvement.

Top - down

Critical evaluation of the issues in Yemen are basically the consequences of many disorders such as absence of judicial system, corruption in the law and order affairs, discrimination, lack of merit and objectivity. In addition to this, lack of focus on training and civic education and the development of legal infrastructure have also taken people towards dissatisfaction (van Veen, 2014). State established judicial system is completely absent due to which, people have no option but to rely on tribal law and justice system of disputes and their resolution. Van Veen (2014) reports that nearly 70 to 80 percent of the disputes and issues in the country are handled through this mechanism

Moreover, the ruling class works to take benefit out from the disputes of local Yemenis to compete and further strengthen their own influence in the Sana`a region. These elements have collectively pushes the country towards lacking social contract and the thinking of citizenship (van Veen, 2014). Due to the absence of judicial system, people have become more prone towards political and social crimes. This in result has severely affected the social justice and educational development of the country.


The worst case is due to the ignorance and illiteracy of the people thus, affecting citizenship education. Although the Yemeni constitution protects all citizens’ rights, including females, in the 2003 parliamentary elections only 11 women competed against 1,385 men for the 301 seats in the House of Representatives and only one woman won (Schlaffer et al. n.d.).

On the other hand, there is a severe lack of qualified staff and teachers in the area of basic education. Schools are not located at an easily commutable place due to which, children in some areas have to walk for hours to reach there. Additionally, child labor is on its peak due to poverty which consequently results in kids not going to school in Yemen (Akkari, 2004).

UNICEF report for the period of 2008-2012 suggests that there is a major difference when we compare the rural and urban in terms of number of kids going to school. The report suggests that urban areas has nearly 83.3 percent kids going to school which is higher than 64.3 percent of the rural areas in the country.

Another major challenge with the country is the availability and skill level of the teaching staff. The education is at the verge total collapse due to low teaching and mentoring skills of the teachers which reflects upon the seriousness and focus of the ruling class on the entire education system (PRSP, 2002) [[23]]. Moreover, the education system in Yemen does not encourage students to participate in the class or in the discussions in the class which further affects overall learning (Akkari, 2004).

The lack of systematic citizenship education:

In citizenship education hardly finds within the legal framework and curricular guideline of formal education and do not gets little or no attention. Some of the themes can be found connected with civic education concept in national education books. Sadly, the curricula fail instill them with the values of citizenship (Jennings and Kahn, 2007), human rights (Al-Obathani, 2014), and does not address or reinforce social justice in the society (AL-Arashi, 2015).

Citizenship education is mostly absent from formal education.  Some activities, mainly initiated by NGOs can be noticed whereby the development of citizenship concept between students and teachers with some learning instruments takes place.

NGOs Sector 

Non-governmental sector holds a great responsibility in a country like Yemen. There are major differences in rural and urban areas of the country and so their social and economic conditions. NGOs therefore can devise strategies in order to help develop both the regions accordingly. There is a dire need for emphasis and improvement on the civic and social justice system of the country and government and NGOs need to work on these issues as well. Similarly, there are limited resources in terms of training and development which is also affecting the country. Notably, the local NGOs are also struggling due to financial constraints and resource scarcity. Reports also suggest that there is need for collaboration among the NGOs in order to obtain maximum benefits for the economy (USAID, 2007) [[24]].  



[[1]] VomBruck, G. (2015). Higher Education in Yemen: Knowledge and Power Revisitied. International Higher Education, (18).

[[2]] Messick, B. (1992). The calligraphic state: Textual domination and history in a Muslim society (Vol. 16). Univ of California Press.

[[3]] Orkaby, A. A. (2014). The International History of the Yemen Civil War, 1962-1968 (Doctoral dissertation).

[[4]] A. Al-Amri.; D. Annuzaili.; A. Al-Deram. (2003). "Overview of the Situation of Children,Women and ECD in Yemen. Early Childhood Development Virtual University (ECDVU)

[[5]] Akkari, A. (2004). Education in the Middle East and North Africa: The Current Situation and Future Challenges. International Education Journal,5(2), 144-153.

[[6]] As cited in (n.d) http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1687/Yemen-EDUCATIONAL-SYSTEM-OVERVIEW.html.

[[7]] Burrowes, R. D. (2010). Historical dictionary of Yemen (Vol. 72). Rowman& Littlefield.

[[8]]26 September report (2011) .The development of educational services. 26 September newspaper. No issue: 1599 Sept 25, 2011.Retrieved fromhttp://www.26sep.net/weeks/1599/page13.pdf

[[9]] Davis, K. A. (2014). From Collective Memory to Nationalism: Historical Remembrance in Aden.

[[10]] Taha, A.(2012). Papers from history of Aden Scouts (6), Yemeni Vanguards Organization. 14 October newspaper, No.: (15601) November 4, 2012.Retrieved from http://www.14october.com/news.aspx?newsno=3038937

[[11]] UNESCO(2008).Literacy Through Poetry (LTPP).Country Profile: Yemen,EFA Global Monitoring Report 2008. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/uil/litbase/?menu=9&programme=25

[[12]] Abulohoom , A. (2013). REWRITING YEMEN’S HISTORY IN SCHOOL BOOKS AND CURRICULUM. Retrieved from http://www.yementimes.com/en/1736/news/3212/Rewriting-Yemen%E2%80%99s-history-in-school-books-and-curriculum.htm.

[[13]] Young, E. L. (2010). Unifying History: An Examination of Official Narratives in the Republic of Yemen’s Textbooks. International Journal for Education Law and Policy [Special Issue]: 20–32.

[[14]] Paulson, J. (2015). “WHETHER AND HOW?” HISTORY EDUCATION ABOUT RECENT AND ONGOING CONFLICT: A REVIEW OF RESEARCH.Journal on Education in Emergencies, 1(1), 14-47.

[[15]] Jennings, M., & Kahn, S. (2007). Youth Bulge Issues in Yemen and the MENA Region: An Annotated Bibliography of Research, and Government, Donor and Civil Society Responses. Governance and Social Development Resource Centre.

[[16]] Schlaffer, E., Kropiunigg, U., Hargrove, E., Kalin, S., Schrott, A., & Shaibany, Y. “Fair Share” in Yemen.

[[17]] Al-Obathani, S. M. (2014). The Contribution of Public Education Curricula in the Realization of Yemeni Female Students to Their Human Rights. Journal of the Gulf & Arabian Peninsula Studies, 40(153).

[[18]] AL-Arashi, L. Y. H. (2015). An analytical case study: Curriculum development and girls' education in Yemen (Doctoral dissertation, CAMBRIDGE COLLEGE).

[[19]] National Dialogue conference (NDC) (2014).The National Dialogue Document.http://ndc.ye/ndc_document.pdf.

[[20]] Dyer, C. (2007). Working children and educational inclusion in Yemen.International Journal of Educational Development, 27(5), 512-524

[[21]] Kabeer, N. (2001). Deprivation, discrimination and delivery: competing explanations for educational failure and child labour in South Asia (No. 135). IDS Working Paper.

[[22]] Van Veen, E. (2014). From the Struggle for Citizenship to the Fragmentation of Justice: Yemen from 1990 to 2013. Conflict Research Unit, The Clingendael Institute.

[[23]] The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP)(2002).The Republic of Yemen: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. World Bank, Washington.

[[24]]USAID (2007).YEMEN: CIVIL SOCIETY SECTOR ASSESSMENT – FINAL REPORT.Retrieved from http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pnaec159.pdf

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