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Two Million Yemeni Students Sit On Floor As Schools Face Chair Shortage

posted Dec 22, 2013, 6:23 AM by Mpelembe   [ updated Dec 22, 2013, 6:24 AM ]

Two million Yemeni students are left with no seats in overcrowded classrooms and are forced to receive their education on the floor as state schools face a shortage of chairs and benches.

SANAA, YEMEN (REUTERS) - The Yemeni government has been stepping up efforts to raise awareness about child labour, in a country where thousands abandon their education to help support their families.

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Since the start of an initiative in June the number of children in schools has increased by 10 percent, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

But as more children are encouraged to enrol in education, they find themselves squeezed into overcrowded classrooms with limited seating capacity.

Hail Said, a school in the capital Sanaa, is one of the state schools that is struggling to provide a good educational environment in its classrooms.

Its desks, which are designed to accommodate two students, are now squeezing in up to four children.

But for many at the school, even the squeeze is a luxury. When the chairs run out, tens of other students are forced to sit on the floor.

Yemeni education minister Abdulrazaq al-Ashwal says this is now the case for large numbers of students across the country.

"One of the challenges we face is that there are two million students without class seats, they don't have a seat to sit on to exercise their right to education. The constitution states that every student has the right to education, and the law has stressed the right to education. Despite this, the student goes to school and finds no seat in the class, so he sits on the floor," he said.

He blamed the previous government for failing to introduce policies to tackle the problem.

"The reason for this problem is the policies. The former government could have applied some policies in order to tackle this problem, such as not building new schools without providing enough class seats and calling on the municipalities to supply schools with seats as part of their budget investments," al-Ashwal said.

In Yemen, only five percent of the government budget is spent on education, according to figures from the Basmat Shabab Foundation, a civil society organisation in Sanaa.

School staff say they need more input from the government.

"If more seats were made available to us, we could provide those who sit on the floor with seats, but even if we have enough seats, the classroom will remain packed with students," said the school manager, Muhammad al-Habashi.

The school's deputy manager Muhammad al-Hamzi said the huge numbers of children in each classroom put a strain on the little equipment the school did have.

"Because the desks accommodate more than their capacity - where sometimes four students sit at one desk- the desks last for a week before they break. We take them back to fix them but they break again. The ministry supplies us with 150-200 desks once a year, sometimes once in two or three years. This makes the educational process more difficult during the academic year," he said.

Yemen is the second poorest Arab state after Mauritania, with a third of the 25 million people living under a poverty line of $2 a day and unemployment is estimated at around 35 percent - with youth unemployment at 60 percent.

The country badly needs to invest in education, infrastructure and health and the government is now considering cutting fuel subsidies to make more funds available.

Yemeni students will be hoping any money saved will be ploughed into their schools to give them a chance to study in classrooms that can accommodate them all - and provide each of them with their own chair.