In Yemen, Breaking Barriers to Girls’ Education

April 15, 2013

  • Girls in rural Yemen face cultural and financial barriers to attending school, including a shortage of female teachers.
  • The government has recruited and trained more than 1,000 female teachers to work in rural areas.
  • Conditional cash transfers encourage parents to allow girls to attend school; more than 39,000 students reached.

April 15, 2013 -- Like many girls in rural Yemen, Raysa Al-Kholani was married off early—in grade 7—and faced long odds in continuing her studies. Her in-laws insisted she stay home and care for a family of what would become nine children, but she had other ideas: She enlisted her husband’s support to return to school.

“I had to take my children with me every day to the school walking almost 8 kilometers,” she recalled. “Many girls in my community rejected my friendship because I was studying with boys.”

She persevered, eventually landing work as a volunteer teacher after completing her studies. “When I joined the school, the number of girls was only 10 but after 2 years, the number of girls went up to 95. My role now is not only teaching but also advocating girls’ education.”

Today, Raysa gives hope to Yemeni girls as one of a pioneering group of teachers trained by the government to work in rural areas, where a lack of female teachers contributes to low enrollment and low retention of girls in schools. She is one of many who benefited from an 8-year, World Bank-supported basic education project in Yemen, which ended in December 2012.

Under a follow-up project, approved in February 2013, the country continues to improve girls’ enrollment and quality of learning — and make progress toward the 2015 Millennium Development Goals on education — through recruiting and training rural female teachers. Yemen also offers conditional cash transfers to families in disadvantaged communities where girls enrollment and retention in school is significantly lower than national average.

Training and Hiring Female Teachers

The gender gap among teachers in Yemen is wide, and serves as a deterrent to girls’ school attendance when traditionally-minded male family members will not allow daughters, sisters or nieces to be taught by men.

In 2010-2011, only 28% of teachers in government basic and secondary schools were female. The Ministry of Education estimates 4,500 female teachers are needed to remedy the acute shortage of female teachers in rural areas.

To address the disparity, in 2007 the Yemeni government, with funding from the World Bank’s Fund for the Poorest Countries (IDA), launched a rural female teacher contracting scheme and has since trained 550 teachers, 525 of which have become certified.  Under an additional project, funded by the Global Partnership for Education, 490 teachers have completed the training program.

Tomomi Miyajima, World Bank education specialist for Middle East and North Africa, said schools participating in the training schemes have seen increased girls’ enrollment and retention, and female teachers say they are happy with their jobs.

“The rural teachers project was successful in working with the Ministries of Finance, Education and Civil Service, local authorities, and parents’ councils, to not only identify, recruit and train female teachers, but ensure that they became civil servants after training,” she said. “This ensured that female teachers would remain in their jobs in rural areas where the need is great.”

Parents, administrators and teachers who have participated in the program also say they’ve also seen an improvement in teaching quality.

“Undoubtedly, training makes a difference, as it increases the abilities of trainees in performance and planning,” said one female teacher trainee. “If you compare between those teachers who have had training and those who haven’t, you will find a big difference. Trained teachers can plainly present information to students.”

Providing Cash Transfers as Incentives

Though girls’ enrollment and primary education completion rates in Yemen have increased substantially over the last decade, the gender disparity remains severe. While the girls’ primary completion rate rose from 33% in 1999/2000 to 53% in 2010/2011, the corresponding rate for boys has remained at least 20% higher -- at a steady 73-77 % from 1999/2000 to present. The gap is even more pronounced in rural areas, and worsens for girls at the secondary education level.

A conditional cash transfer (CCT) program, designed to help girls in grades 4-9 in disadvantaged communities in selected governorates, has been effective in encouraging parents to allow girls to attend school. From 2004-2012, under the first basic education project, more than 275 Yemeni schools provided transfers to eligible families, ultimately reaching more than 39,000 female students in the 2010-11 school year.

The cash stipends are conditional on maintaining no less than 80% attendance and a passing grade, with an allowance to repeat the grade only once. In addition, to encourage better learning, an achievement bonus is given to students achieving overall 65% or more in the final examination in Grades 6 and 9.

Girls in Grades 4-6 are eligible for a transfer amount equivalent to US$35, and girls in Grades 7-9 receive US$40 (to a maximum of US$120 per family). Bank operations teams have reported that these incentives, coupled with awareness-raising activities, have helped change parents’ perceptions towards girls schooling. 

“Yemen has benefited from conditional cash transfers in increasing the enrollment of children in the most deprived areas, where the education system has retained them at school,” said Dr. Abdulrazzak Al-Ashwal, Yemen’s Minister of Education. “They are continuing their schooling and have been promoted to advanced grades. In addition, CCTs have helped decrease drop-outs and encourage families to send their kids to school.”

“We’ve seen a shift in the cultural norms that kept girls out of school, and we’ve relieved the financial burden on parents,” added Miyajima. “There are more girls in school in remote areas, and they are more likely to stay.”

Next Steps

Under Yemen’s second basic education development project, approved under a $66 million IDA grant in February, the government  will recruit, train and deploy an additional 700 female teachers in rural areas and continue its conditional cash transfer program for girls’ education, to extend service to an additional 25,000 students. The new project will also focus on quality of education, by enhancing students’ reading skills in grades 1-3.

Yemen has also applied for a Global Partnership for Education grant, which would support improved, equitable access to education for girls and other education reform activities planned through 2012-2015.

Dr. Al-Ashwal, will discuss his country’s progress toward improving access to and quality of education at an April 18, 2013, Learning for All Ministerial meeting, held during the World Bank-IMF Spring Meetings in Washington, D.C.