September 27, 2021

When Yemeni classrooms go bad

National Yemen

A crowded classroom full of female students

By: Asma Al-Mohattwari

“I don’t remember her name. However, the features of her beautiful face haven’t gone away, and her ever-present habit comes to my mind whenever I see someone doing the same things,” said Ahlam sadly.

The girl she spoke of is named Elham, a very quiet and sensitive girl. She is 13 years old and lives with her older parents, and three brothers and five sisters. In moments of shyness, confusion or even discomfort, Elham is prone to wet her lips with her tongue with a very polite movement. Because of that same habit, she has disappeared from the seventh grade and yet to even return to school.

One day, the Arabic teacher was moving around the class and without paying attention ran into Elham’s bag. Angry because she was in pain, the teacher slapped Elham in the face and kicked her bag.

“I remember well Elham’s attempt to heal recover from the shock and apologize, but at that moment my friend reverted to her habit and wet her lips with her tongue, which made the teacher so angry,” Susan said.

After the teacher shouting and beating, Elham reverted to her habit and out came her tongue. The teacher knew nothing about her habit, so she thought that Elham did so to tease and insult her. The teacher continued shouting at her and soon Elham suffered an asthma attack. The teacher thought she was just pretending to be having an attack. Soon enough, Elham was taken out of the classroom and accused by school administration members of having disrespected her teacher.

Elham’s bag remained at the school for many weeks. No-one asked about her and her family didn’t encourage her to return to school.

The Arabic teacher simply said it wasn’t her fault, that it was Elham and her family’s fault. “The girl is sensitive and delicate…how can I know that?” she said sarcastically.

Though known to be the backbone of civilizations, education has yet to receive the least amount of attention and care in Yemen. It would not be an exaggeration to say that students in schools go through hell when studying.

Elham’s story is only an example of wrongful behavior from a teacher. Many teachers resort to violence against students, with little to no differentiations between firmness and cruelty. Wafa, a psychological counselor, said teachers often use physical punishments.

“Physical punishment is a bad response, one which raises sensory and emotional pain, and makes the student feel injustice and oppression, and forces him to store such bad experiences in his depths, where these distorted experiments lead to many negative behaviors,” she added.

The reasons for using physical punishments often come back to weaknesses in rehabilitating teachers and their lack of experience, as well as the recruitment of teachers.

“Resorting to physical punishment proves the weakness of the teacher’s approach to dealing with educational issues in the classroom, and makes him lose the spirit of belonging to the educational process. They contribute to a distortion of the educational process; the teacher should be a role model for his students, in kindness, compassion and in fair dealings,” said Mohammed Ali, a teacher at a private school.

Punishment is not limited to physical responses, but also to psychological punishments such as insults.

Many teachers use bad words and threaten to expel students who complain to their families. Safa is a housewife with one daughter, Lian, who is in the second grade. Lian likes school, but her mother noticed that she recently began to hate the school and when she was alone, she sometimes started to cry. After many attempts, Safa learned what was wrong with her daughter.

“She told me when we are noisy, the teacher uses bad words and sometimes beats us. She said if anyone tells his family, I will expel him or her,” Safa said. Of course the mother didn’t keep silent and went to the school and told the administration the whole story. The teacher was soon removed from the school.

“Unfortunately, some teachers don’t understand their profession well. They think their only role is to explain a lesson and finish a book, meanwhile forgetting all that he or she is there instead of the father and mother; their role is bigger and more than just writing on the board and talking in class – they are generation builders,” said one father.

Fatma Al-Hattami said there are teachers who don’t care about being role models for their students. Male teachers can be found in classes chewing qat and smoking, while female teachers may wear inappropriate gowns and high heel shoes.

Also, for exams – and especially high school exams – teachers sometimes receive money and gifts from students and in return may allow their students to cheat.