Literacy for Kids in South Africa
Consistently low reading scores among South African children can confirm one thing: the country is undoubtedly facing a reading crisis. In fact, eight out of 10 children in South Africa cannot read properly, and in the Progress in International Reading Literacy (PIRLS) study in 2016, South Africa ranked last out of 50 countries. While there has not been much improvement in literacy for kids in South Africa in the past, some people are stepping in and banding together to change that by making reading a priority.

The Reading Crisis

South Africa’s reading culture has been weak for many years. Literacy can transform lives, but unfortunately, a lot of students in South Africa are not succeeding in this skill. A scientific study revealed that 27 percent of children under 5 years old are not undergoing proper brain development. It is not uncommon for low-income public schools to overlook the importance of comprehensive reading. Moreover, the study showed that 78 percent of fourth-grade students that it tested could not read for meaning in any language. Many parents do not spend time reading to their children because they are not literate themselves. Another reason why South African children are not succeeding in literacy is that they do not get the opportunity to explore the world of stories due to a lack of quality books and resources. But what if stories could come to them?

 Meet the SSRS

The Schools Reading Road Show, better known as the SSRS, aims to make stories accessible to children. Founders Jann Weeratunga and Kim Hunter have organized a traveling group of authors to improve literacy for kids in South Africa. Interacting with local children’s authors can inspire children to read, and this is precisely the goal of the SSRS. Children’s authors, including Fatuma Abdullah, travel around the country visiting underprivileged schools and meeting with students. The children get to listen to the authors read their books, ask questions and even play with puppets that resemble characters from the books!

The SSRS’s hope is that meeting local authors will inspire children and motivate them to start their own reading journey, and maybe even begin writing their own stories. The members’ favorite part about the entire experience is getting to see the children’s eyes light up as they discover the excitement of reading.

The Future of Literacy for Kids in South Africa

This hands-on experience opens up a whole new realm of learning for the students. When the authors visit well-funded areas, they sell their books to students. They then use that money to purchase books for the under-resourced schools. With volunteer groups like the SSRS swooping in to improve literacy for kids in South Africa, the future is optimistic. An ignited curiosity for reading can both inspire and shape the future for many kids.

– Hadley West
Photo: Flickr

Literacy Rates in Afghanistan
Afghanistan, a landlocked country in south-central Asia, houses many different ethnic groups and extremely important trade routes. The country also has a longstanding history in literature, with poets such as Reza Mohammadi and Khaled Hosseini. Unfortunately, due to the spread of the Taliban regime and devastating wars, literacy rates in Afghanistan are among the lowest in the world at about 45 percent for men and 17 percent for women. In 2018, Idress Siyawash had the vision to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan with the implementation of his mobile bicycle libraries.

Mobile Bicycle Libraries

Read Books, or Ketab Lwast, is a program that Idress Siyawash started to provide books and learning experiences for children in Afghanistan, especially in rural areas. Siyawash is a student at Jahan University in Kabul, Afghanistan. Each week, he and his team travel to rural areas in Afghanistan to deliver books to children. They ride around town on bright blue bicycles with baskets full of books in order to excite the children and motivate them to learn. Then, they gather all the kids and teach them to read, write, speak and understand the importance of learning. Female volunteers travel from home to home working to encourage mothers and fathers to send their daughters to school. The female volunteers serve as models for parents who want a better, more equal life for their daughters.

Motives and Inspiration

Education rates in Afghanistan are significantly lower than those of other countries. For example, Afghanistan has an average literacy rate of 38 percent, while the international average is 84 percent. Education in rural areas is especially low. Gender inequality also affects education in Afghanistan, as many women do not have permission to attend schools, and in most provinces, the amount of female teachers is below 10 percent.

Siyawash had the determination to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan and also change Afghani attitudes regarding gender equality in terms of education. In an interview, Siyawash said, “Our idea is to show that reading is fun and explain why education is so important. If we give the children books, it might help end the way of thinking that is holding this country back.”

Obstacles and Solutions

One of the main obstacles to education in Afghanistan is distance. Some children, especially in rural areas, must walk for hours to reach their schools. For example, children in the Badakhshan province walk four hours each day to go and come back from the closest government-supported school. Siyawash’s bicycle idea tackles this obstacle effectively, bringing education straight to the children.

Another obstacle is the fear of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, especially among females. Unfortunately, Taliban members have confronted and threatened Siyawash and his team twice, but they continue to travel and provide services to children because they believe in a “different future for Afghanistan.”

Read Books has had success in its goal to raise literacy rates in Afghanistan. Over the span of just a few years, the literacy rate in Afghanistan grew from 38 percent in 2015 to 43 percent in 2018. Overall, the future of education in Afghanistan is looking brighter.

– Shveta Shah
Photo: Flickr

Illiteracy in Nepal
Nepal is a country of Asia that lies along the southern side of the Himalayas. It is a landlocked nation with a territory of just 500 miles east to west. Nepal has long experienced isolation under a series of rulers who favored isolationist policies and remained closed off to the rest of the world up until the year 1905. Today, Nepal is a country between two superpowers, India and China. As a result of this extreme isolation, it has become one of the least developed nations in the world. This underdevelopment has also led to a heavily illiterate population. Here are seven interesting facts about illiteracy in Nepal.

7 Facts About Illiteracy in Nepal

  1. Illiteracy in Nepal: As recently as 2015, Nepal had an illiterate population of 6,784,566 people. Luckily this statistic has been on a steady decline of about 2 percent every year since 1991.
  2. Literacy in Nepal: Nepal’s literate population in 2015 was at 55 percent. Although this means that just under half the population is illiterate, it is still an extremely large increase from the 1950s, during which only 5 percent of the population was literate.
  3. Women: Only 49 percent of women in Nepal are literate. The average literacy rate for women in Nepal is 20 percent lower than men. This may be a result of fewer women completing a full education than men, a statistic that is slowly becoming more equal and challenging illiteracy in Nepal.
  4. World Vision: Thankfully, literacy rates in Nepal are rising. An organization called World Vision has been working to eliminate illiteracy in Nepal. World Vision has been training teachers in Nepal to use more engaging methods to get their students more interested in reading.
  5. Reading Camps: World Vision has also created reading camps outside of school, in addition to encouraging parents to nurture a reading friendly environment in their homes so students are more willing to read. In just two years, the children involved in the program were one and a half times better at reading than children who did not attend the program.
  6. Room to Read: Another organization, Room to Read, has created a Girls’ Education Program that has helped nearly 5,000 girls in Nepal since 2001 to read and write. Children in Nepali schools with Room to Read libraries have checked out, on average, more than 16 books per student. Room to Read has been a catalyst in helping many children to appreciate reading.
  7. Five-Year Initiative: In 2016, Room to Read launched a five year initiative with the government of Nepal, USAID and the research group RTI International to improve the country’s primary grade literacy programs greatly. This initiative has the goal of changing the lives of 1 million students in grades one to three in order to combat illiteracy in Nepal.

Illiteracy in Nepal is an issue that has significantly decreased due to the actions of these, and many other programs and initiatives, all with the goal of improving literacy rates in Nepal. If it were not for groups like Room to Read and World Vision, the people, and especially the children, would still be stuck in the darkness of illiteracy.

– William Mendez
Photo: Flickr

Worldreader Empowers Communities to Create Lifelong Readers
Illiteracy is not much of a problem in developed countries, but for developing countries, rates of illiteracy are high. Around 617 million children are not meeting the minimum reading level because the regions they live in do not always stress education as much or it simply is not available. Illiteracy is a huge problem, especially in this day and age. It can cause an average decrease of 35 percent in income, and a lack of reading can lead to a lack of cognitive development. Worldreader empowers communities to create lifelong readers.

Worldreader Empowers Readers

When people have an education, they tend to give posterity a better chance. Children born to literate mothers are 50 percent more likely to live past 5 years old. Worldreader is an application with a library of 35,000 books in 52 different languages. It is available on advanced but affordable e-readers and other devices. The content of these books depends on the reader but all titles aim to be culturally relevant.

There are four categories of reading on the application. Worldreader has tailored the programs to each of its audiences to best address the main problems for each crowd. These programs include pre-reading, library reading, lifelong reading and school reading.

Pre-reading is for younger people up to age 19 but can also help illiterate adults. This program promotes positive interaction, cognitive development and school preparedness. Library reading focuses on promoting reading culture through libraries no matter the age. The goal of this program is to get more people to visit libraries and more librarians to emerge in their areas.

Lifelong reading is for people from 16 and up to read digital books on the Worldreader Open Library application. This program seeks to build a reading habit in people and promote an overall joy of reading. It also wishes to gain more regular readers by transitioning users to readers. That may sound similar, but really it is for a noncommittal user to develop a reading habit and become a lifelong reader.

Lastly, school reading is just how it sounds. School programs have e-readers with books for any age or grade level, language or even cultural context. It has a teaching program for educators to help cultivate learning and reading cultures. Worldreader also works to train families, schools and libraries so they can reap the most benefit from its programs.

Worldreader’s partners help to make this happen. Worldreader’s partners provide the resources that it needs to reach people in need. Its main partners are Binu, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and Opera Mini. Binu helps to promote Worldreader on its Moya app. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation helps to launch e-readers in all national Kenyan libraries. Opera Mini promotes Worldreader to its users from 34 sub-Saharan African countries. Other prominent partners include USAID, The U.N. Refugee Agency, UNHCR, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, LinkedIn, Pearson and Amazon. Penguin Random House, Sub-Saharan Publishers, Longhorn Publishers, Modjaji Books and Rosetta Books are the partners that help to publish and translate books for Worldreader.

Worldreader’s Accomplishments

The year 2018 saw an increase of 3 million readers with over 10 million readers overall. Worldreader has gained 100 million hours of reading since 2014 and has received $12.1 million total in donations. These donations have made it much easier for Worldreader to reach more potential readers from around the world. These funds mostly went toward program services, but other notable areas are management and fundraising. Worldreader empowers communities through this funding. As of 2018, Worldreader is already in 49 countries including Mexico, Ghana, India, Kenya and Jordan.

The Future for Worldreader

Worldreader empowers communities to improve literacy rates. Worldreader’s plans for the future consist of continuing to provide cheap but good technology for under-resourced people, which should in turn help schools to save on book money. The application also plans to expand on its pre-existing book collection. While 35,000 titles is a lot, it aims to add much more. It will also collect the data from its readers to provide future insights into technology improvements. Through this data collection, Worldreader will be able to improve its technology and books. Worldreader encourages sharing costs and responsibilities for sustainable impact. Its donors and supporters help to do so. Worldreader is always searching for more supporters to bring reading to the under-resourced. The Worldreader website has options to sponsor schools, volunteer or join its Reading for Opportunity campaign.

Nyssa Jordan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Women Writing About Global Poverty
Due to an array of causes, including unpaid maternity leave and lower wages, women are statistically more likely to struggle with poverty than men. This imbalance has driven many female authors to speak up about the issue through writing. The publication of material to inform readers of the realities of poverty is extremely beneficial to the cause. Fiction or nonfiction books can play a major hand in urging the world to take action against this social injustice. Here are five women writing about global poverty.

5 Women Writing About Global Poverty

  1. Katherine Boo is an American journalist, whose reports on disadvantaged populations earned her a Pulitzer Prize in 2013. People know her best for her book, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,” a compilation of interviews and observations from Boo’s time in India. The book follows the stories of several different residents of Annawadi, a slum dwelling in close proximity to Mumbai. The village is home to roughly 3,000 people who experience a life of scavenging through airport waste and residing next to a sewage lake. Boo’s accounts of Annawadi provide a jarringly honest look at life inside of a community struggling to battle poverty within a developing nation. She believes that shedding light on underlying issues is imperative to initiate real change in impoverished communities, like Annawadi.
  2. Shobha Rao was merely 7-years-old when she moved to the United States from India. Her novel, “Girls Burn Brighter,” and her short story collection, titled “An Unrestored Woman,” have received critical acknowledgment for the representation of varying social issues, including poverty. “Girls Burn Brighter” centers on two young Indian women who attempt to escape slavery, sex trafficking and prostitution. The novel distinctly describes various aspects of poverty in Poornima and Savitha’s intertwined tales. Both girls’ families are extremely poor, forcing them to scavenge junkyards; the family sends the children to work the spinning wheel, where the two characters meet. As one of many women writing about global poverty, Rao’s writings demonstrate the dark and brutal effects poverty places on those who endure it.
  3. NoViolet Bulawayo is a native of Zimbabwe, now living in the United States, who uses childhood experiences as inspiration for her writings. The Man Booker Prize shortlisted her literary debut, “We Need New Names;” Bulawayo was the first black African woman and Zimbabwean to receive this award. “We Need New Names” follows a 10-year-old Zimbabwean girl on her journey to escape the impoverished, corrupt conditions of her homeland and seek refuge in America, which does not end up offering any solace to the young immigrant. Bulawayo’s compassion for human rights, particularly of her fellow Zimbabweans, has driven her to become one of the most prominent women writing about global poverty today.
  4. Tsitsi Dangarembga is also a native to Zimbabwe; born and raised in the nation, her creative voice has traveled across oceans to reach the hearts of people everywhere. One of her books, “Nervous Conditions,” earned a place on BBC’s list of 100 Stories that Shaped the World in 2018. Further, the novel’s debut was the first time that a book that a black Zimbabwean woman wrote received publication in English. This story follows a young Zimbabwe girl’s struggle for a better education after her brother’s death. In addition to the other women writing about global poverty, Dangarembga also utilizes this theme as a primary element throughout the novel. Dangarembga’s writing captures an authentic view of the life that impoverished Zimbabweans lead, resulting in a raw story that emphasizes the struggles that millions of women in developing nations face.
  5. Anne C. Bromley is an American poet and children’s book author. In 2010, she published “The Lunch Thief,” a children’s book about poverty. The story focuses on Rafael, a boy who plots revenge against the bully who has been stealing his lunch. Rafael soon discovers that local wildfires had recently impacted the thief and the thief’s family, pushing the family into poverty thus fueling the boy’s theft. In the end, Rafael and the thief become friends through him sharing his lunch. Bromley is one of the few women writing about global poverty in children’s books, which is an engaging and efficient way to introduce children to such issues and how to properly react to them.

Books have the ability to spread information, teach children literacy skills and send hope to a person dealing with social, physical or other circumstances. Further, one could argue that books are one of the world’s ultimate weapons against poverty. These five women writing about global poverty have proven that adversity can give rise to a powerful voice. In a world where women are statistically more impoverished than men, such a voice is essential to starting a movement for change.

– Harley Goebel
Photo: Flickr

Total Literacy in KeralaLiteracy has always been an important measure of development and a huge means to further progress through an educated population. People usually define literacy as the ability to read, write and comprehend information. This is important in even basic infrastructure improvements for a community, such as implementing road signs in order to lower road injuries and deaths. Literacy in India is improving rapidly. The most recent measure of literacy in India took place during the 2011 census. India’s 2011 literacy rate was 74.04 percent, an immense increase from the previous census, where the literacy rate was only 12 percent. But even more impressive, Kerala has the highest literacy rate of all the states and even has the label of a total literacy state. In fact, the total literacy in Kerala is 93.91 percent.

History of Kerala

Kerala is a fairly small state and largely rural, rather than being a center of commerce. Additionally, it does not have a high level of industrial development. However, Kerala rises above other states regarding development indicators like literacy, health outcomes and life expectancy. It is crucial to analyze and understand Kerala’s success so that the literacy rates can improve in other regions.

Kerala’s history as a region plays a role in its literacy success. Starting in the 19th century, royalty called for the state to cover education costs. While still a colony, Kerala implemented social reform in the early 20th century that allowed access to education for lower castes and women. Post-independence, socialist or left of center governments overarchingly controlled the state government and they made equity and social goals a huge priority.

Literacy Programs in Kerala

However, aside from these factors, one of the biggest contributors to Kerala’s total literacy is its literacy program, Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority. This is an institution that works under the state government and received funding from it, but operates autonomously. The values of this organization are clearly framed in its slogan, “Education for all and education forever.”

The program works on many levels, including basic literacy programs and equivalency programs. The basic literacy programs include a push to take Kerala to a full 100 percent literacy rate. These programs focus on regions and peoples who tend to have lower literacy rates, including urban slum, coastal and tribal populations. District-specific programs target localized issues, needs and a total literacy program for jail inmates. The equivalency program provides the opportunity for adults who did not go through all levels of primary and secondary school to take classes and tests which will bring them up to fourth, seventh, 10th, 11th, or 12th-grade literacy standards. The program also offers certifications and is constantly adding smaller, new programs in social literacy as different areas require attention.

The Goal

The goals of this program center around developing literacy skills through continuing education and offering opportunities for all who have an interest in learning. This ensures secondary education, providing the skills necessary for those learning to read and write to apply these new abilities in their daily lives and to conduct research on non-formal education. The organization and practices of the Keralite government in terms of improving literacy in their state are undoubtedly successful.

In the development field, it is easy for one to become bogged down in the failures. The total literacy in Kerala is a success story that should receive attention. This is the value of investing in development projects. There are concrete gains when development receives careful formulation and funding with the population in mind. There is much that one can learn from the Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority and apply to achieve total literacy around the world.

Treya Parikh
Photo: Flickr

The Fight Against Learning PovertyLearning poverty is defined as not being able to read or understand a simple text by the age of 10. It is common in developing countries. As of 2017, 262 million children from ages six to 17 were not in school. More than 50 percent of children are not meeting the minimum standards in reading and math. In addition, their teachers and the teaching quality have not improved over time. Especially elementary school teachers, who are arguably the most important. As a result of this plateau, around 750 million adults were illiterate as of 2016. The vast majority of them are women. The largest populations of illiterate people are in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Many schools in developing countries cannot provide efficient learning environments because they do not have access to computers, electricity, drinking water or basic facilities and infrastructure.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 4

The United Nations created Sustainable Development Goal 4 to fully address the issue and solve the problem of learning poverty around the world. It consists of five pillars.

  1. Make sure students are prepared and motivated to learn: The first pillar focuses on motivating students to learn when they attend school. The parts that contribute to making this successful are Early Childhood Education (ECE), nutrition and stimulation. There has been much evidence to show that intervening during a child’s earliest years is the best time to build a strong foundation for the future, especially for children who are less fortunate than their peers.
  2. Effective teachers at every level: The second pillar focuses on increasing the number of quality teachers available. Incentives must be made more to entice more people to the field of teaching. Thus, improving its compensation policies and making it easier to transfer into will help with this issue. Selecting and hiring based on talent, effort and achievements will ensure that these are high-quality teachers. Once in a teaching position, teachers should continue to improve. Additionally, teachers should be educated on how to use tech resources.
  3. Equipped classrooms: The third pillar emphasizes on providing classrooms with a simple but efficient curriculum. This includes increasing access to books and technology and coaching. In addition, teachers are urged to “teach to the right level.” This means they should start with a one-size-fits-all approach and adapt to students’ needs as necessary. It enables children of all different learning levels and styles to learn at the same time. Teachers should also provide feedback to the students so they can further improve their personal education.
  4. Safe and inclusive: The fourth pillar focuses on maintaining a safe and inclusive environment for all students. Many countries are falling into crises, violence and fragility. Schools do not need to be added to the list of places where a child does not feel safe. An unsafe environment makes a child want to stay home. When they do attend, they are more unwilling to learn. Also, unsafe environments from violence or discrimination do not foster learning. As for inclusivity, teachers and staff should not stereotype a student based on their gender, race or disability. Schools must be inclusive to those who have trouble keeping up with their peers.
  5. Well-managed education systems: The fifth pillar is focused on good management in education systems. Principals should show how to further their careers and how to become better leaders for their schools. Moreover, there should be clear authority and accountability in schools.

The World Bank’s Literacy Policy

The World Bank has introduced a Literary Policy package outlining interventions to boost literacy. So far, a few countries have already started following it, including Egypt and Brazil. Egypt has begun the Egypt Education Reform Project. The project focuses on four core values:

  1. Expanding access to quality kindergarten
  2. Improving education delivery through digital learning content
  3. Developing educational professionals
  4. Developing computer-based assessment systems

There are many expectations for this program in the future. For example, the project predicts that it will be able to serve around 500,000 more kindergarten students including those from poorer districts. There will be a 50 percent improvement in early education. Additionally, there will be two million new quality teachers and two million students in secondary school.

Furthermore, the past 10 years have been good for Brazil as a result of its increased efforts in elementary school education. Their rate of learning poverty has been rapidly declining but is currently at 48 percent. Consequently, Brazil plans to increase quality and labor productivity. This necessitates increasing its quality of education. As a result, they are working on improving early education, teacher training and providing more financing.

Overcoming learning poverty is an essential step in the Sustainable Development Goals. It will not only improve the lives of the children learning but it will also decrease poverty rates and increase economic development. Hopefully, programs like the World Bank’s Literacy Policy and SDG 4 will motivate more countries to make education a priority.

Nyssa Jordan

Photo: Flickr

Unique Library Programs

Access to books is vital in developing countries. However, it is often difficult to bring libraries to these countries. Across the world, many organizations promote literacy through unique library programs.

School Library in a Box

Book Aid International is a charity working to create a world where everyone has access to books. Book Aid International has a unique library program called School Library in a Box. School Library in a Box takes libraries to students in the “poor and remote areas in the Kagera Region of mainland Tanzania and the Zanzibar archipelago.” In these areas, children’s schools do not have libraries due to lack of government funding.

The project provides 700 books written in English and Kiswahili to schools. Student librarians transport the books to classrooms to allow children to enjoy independent reading before their lessons. School Library in a Box also provides training for educators on how to use the books to support their classes. The teachers use the books to support their lessons and to help children develop reading skills in both English and Kiswahili.

This charity collaborates with non-government organizations (NGOs), national library services, community library networks, local government and individual institutions to make its vision happen. For the Zanzibar library services, it collaborates with Zanzibar Library Service and with the Kagera Region it works with Voluntary Service Overseas.

An evaluation of eight schools that participated in this project found that reading levels of students have improved and school lessons became more creative and engaging. As a result, students in many schools proactively chose to read independently. Students borrowed books and established regular reading periods. In 2016, the program supported 40 schools and 39,101 children.

Mobile Libraries

Around the world, many organizations have created mobile library programs. Mobile libraries are now in countries such as America, Nigeria, Norway and Columbia. These libraries transport books by boat, elephant, donkey and bus to reach children who need access to library services.

Though it might seem like a new phenomenon, the first mobile library was established in 1859 in Warrington, England. This mobile library used a horse-drawn-cart and lent about 12,000 books during its first year in service. Today this unique library program idea has greatly expanded and many organizations now have mobile library programs.

In Columbia, Biblioburro brings books to children via donkey. This library is run by an educator who wants to increase his pupils’ access to books after noticing their low literacy rate. Over the 22 years since it started, the program has expanded to include a network of libraries, including a brick-and-mortar library. Biblioburro began distributing laptops to help children learn about the internet.

Other unique mobile library programs include Epos, the boat library, which travels along the coast of Norway. This boat carries 6,000 books. A unique mobile library in Nigeria called iRead Mobile Library travels by bus and carries 13,000 books.

There are many unique library programs around the world that help increase literacy. Ultimately, government funding is needed to permanently solve this issue. These unique library programs inspire many and are creating a world where literacy is more accessible.

Emily Joy Oomen
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

education in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia understands the importance of teaching its people. Its government is increasing efforts to provide primary, secondary and tertiary education to all of its citizens. The Kingdom is improving literacy, expanding forms of education, educating women and more. Here are 10 facts about education in Saudi Arabia.

10 Facts About Education in Saudi Arabia

  1. The Kingdom, Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, requires citizens to have an education. Children between 6 and 14 years old must attend school. About 200,000 children total did not attend school in 2009, however. That number decreased to about 67,000 by 2013.
  2. The Kingdom does not require college-level education, but Saudi Arabian society values it. The King Faisal Foundation, a Saudi Arabian nonprofit organization founded in 1976, supports higher education, creates universities throughout the kingdom, gives grants and helps to build better lives filled with learning. People donate to the organization to fund new schools for Saudi Arabian citizens.
  3. The Qur’an, the religious text of Saudi Arabia, is a core foundation of Saudi Arabia’s faith, society, government, law and education. The Qur’an teaches many educational values, including to “observe the earth and heavens” by learning the natural sciences like biology and Tirmidhi, learning about angels and praying for the wellbeing of people who search for knowledge. People often value the word of the Qu’ran in school textbooks, but there is a controversy over whether schools should teach it. The majority of over 700 nonprofit charitable organizations are taking donations to keep the Qur’an a subject of study.
  4. Women could not attend school before the 1950s. The government realized that uneducated women could not find husbands and start families. Many men attained relationships with international women instead, due to their higher education levels. Therefore, the government decided to allow women in Saudi Arabia the right to pursue an education and created a separate girls’ education system.
  5. Today in Saudi Arabia, women have the chance to stay in school longer. Societal standards give women more time to attend school and to study. People do not expect women to attain a career after college, but rather expect them to care for their families instead.
  6. Saudi Arabia has online schooling. Colleges such as the Deanship and Faculty of Distance Learning at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah allow flexibility in students’ schedules, allowing them to learn from their local library or home. Citizens push to have more online learning in Saudi Arabia today, hoping that everwhere in Saudi Arabia will soon accredit online learning. Writers such as Hend Suliman Al-Khalifa, an author in the e-Learn Magazine report, promote online universities like the Arab Open University.
  7. The Ministry of Higher Education has not officially recognized online education as a valid source. As a result, finding a job may be harder for students with an online degree. 
  8. Saudi Arabian students often enroll in the University of Phoenix, a private, online university in the United States. The Ministry of Education accepts a degree from this U.S. school as an official document, despite it being a private school.  The University of Phoenix offers many degrees and classes ranging from engineering, entrepreneurism and behavioral sciences to cultural studies and the performing arts.
  9. Due to Saudi Arabia’s effort to educate its population, the literacy rate for people 15 years or older has risen. The literacy rate appears to have continued rising past 2015, according to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics. Saudi Arabia’s literacy rate has risen by almost 20 percent in Saudi Arabia from 1995 to 2015. The UNESCO Institute of Statistics also reports that learning and participation in school have increased from 1995 to 2015.
  10. The Saudi Arabian school system has four categories: pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary. Children 3 to 5 years old are in the pre-primary stage. The primary stage includes children 6 to 11 years old. Secondary education includes teens from ages 12 to 17, while tertiary education teaches those from 18 to 22 years old. Children from ages 6 to 14 must go to school, but Saudi Arabian society values additional school.

Saudi Arabia improved the literacy of its adult population, but still has goals to widen its educational efforts. Citizens are working towards appealing the government to accept online-based learning officially, and the Ministry of Education continues to monitor the education system.

– Sofia Ponomareva
Photo: Pixabay

Living Conditions of the Muhamasheen
The Muhamasheen (the marginalized) pejoratively known as the Akhdam (servants) constitute a distinct community in Yemen that the broader Yemeni society consigns to the lowest part of the social hierarchy. Though Yemen has officially abolished its caste system, the legacy of centuries of discrimination persists today. Below are eight facts about the living conditions of the Muhamasheen.

8 Facts About the Living Conditions of the Muhamasheen

  1. Over 50 percent of the Muhamasheen population suffers from unemployment. Systemic exclusion from most employment in the agrarian sector, despite the community’s concentration in rural areas, contributes heavily to this unemployment rate. Muhamasheen workers compete for nomadic seasonal labor such as thrashing grain at harvest time. These deeply-embedded exclusionary practices cement the subordinate status of the Muhamasheen.
  2. Entrenched custom relegates urban sanitation jobs, such as street cleaners, to the Muhamasheen. Thus many urban Muhamasheen people encounter and treat waste products that higher castes view as contaminating and taboo. Inadequate compensation and the possibility of pretextual termination with little notice often awaits Muhamasheen sanitation workers employed by the municipal authorities in the cities.
  3. Inadequate housing, vulnerable to destruction by natural disasters, depresses the living conditions of the Muhamasheen. Rather than the solid and sturdy adobe construction characterizing traditional Yemeni home structures, many Muhamasheen reside in homes constructed from cardboard and thatch or even from sheets extracted from empty containers. Exposure to the elements, whether intense heat and cold or inundation during the rainy season, invariably characterizes life in these dwellings. Other Muhamasheen live in small and cramped concrete structures, the living conditions therein little better than those residing in makeshift cardboard structures.
  4. Southeastern Yemen’s October 2008 floods were particularly devastating to the Muhamasheen. In response, UNHCR provided shelters to Muhamasheen reduced to the status of internally displaced persons. The Yemeni NGO al-Dumir implemented this initiative, encompassing the construction of 100 two-room shelters, with financial backing from the Japanese government amounting to USD $300,224. Akhdam also received household items from UNHCR in the course of this relief program due to how flooding affected it.
  5. Regular exposure to the elements and inadequate access to clean water subject the Muhamasheen to increased health hazards. Respiratory and ocular infections and skin diseases all pose a greater risk to the Muhamasheen than to other groups. Muhamasheen children, many coming of age in lowland drainage areas or near landfills, are more likely to die of malaria and chronic infectious kidney disease than of other illnesses. Poor sanitation contributes to a high rate of infant deaths from parasites, while malnourishment worsens both maternal and infant mortality rates. The marginalization of the Muhamasheen limits the willingness of the health care sector to treat them.
  6. In 2014, a UNICEF study concluded that poor literacy rates pervade the Muhamasheen community. A survey sample consisting of 9,200 Muhamasheen households, encompassing 51,406 persons, yielded a literacy rate of one in five among Muhamasheen ages 15 and older. Survey data yielded school enrollment rates of two in four for youths between ages 6 and 17.
  7. In 2014, UNICEF and Yemen’s Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor administered a survey of 9,200 Muhamasheen households, which revealed significant inequities in education, sanitation, shelter and medical care. The following year, the government of Yemen began designing initiatives for the improvement of the social and economic standing of the Muhamasheen community. These ameliorative programs include the creation of family-targeted financial inclusion programs involving both the Social Welfare Fund Office in Taiz Governorate and nonprofit organizations such as Alamal Microfinance Bank. Other initiatives encompass enforcing the right of Muhamasheen children to attend school without discrimination and providing students with uniforms and school supplies.
  8. Testimony that WITNESS and the Yemeni NGO Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights obtained attests to the epidemic of public abuse of Muhamasheen women by non-Muhamasheen men. Out of this research, the organizations above filmed an award-winning documentary, “Breaking the Silence,” successfully spreading awareness of these endemic attacks. Given the Muhamasheen community’s limitations of access to the full weight of the justice system, such documentaries as “Breaking the Silence” play an invaluable role in revealing the systemic abuses contributing to the living conditions of the Muhamasheen.

The marginal living conditions of the Muhamasheen, a legacy of centuries of caste discrimination, remains a serious issue in Yemen. However, NGOs such as UNICEF have increasingly paid more attention to the community’s plight and designed initiatives to improve the living conditions of the Muhamasheen. These measures, alongside the awareness-spreading efforts of such organizations as WITNESS and the Yemeni NGO Sisters Arab Forum for Human Rights, show that there is hope for the future of the Muhamasheen.

Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Flickr