A Journey to the Future
Dr. Abdul Qawi Hizam Al-Shamiri
More than fifteen years ago, while I was standing with a friend of mine near one of the primary schools in one of the largest cities in Yemen, looking at hundreds of students leaving their school at the end of official working hours, my friend had a question: “What do you expect the fate of these students will be after fifteen years? To which Yemen are they going, and what future awaits them?".
I told him that knowledge of the unseen is not a human characteristic, and before I finished my speech he interrupted me saying: “Let’s read the future through the present, as the famous historian William Lund said, “We study the past to understand the present, and we understand the present to guide the future.” The summary of his speech was that after (15 years, the dream of this generation will be to go back 15 years, my friend based this perception on the educational reality that Yemen was living through.
At that time, Yemen was threatened by a number of political, material, educational and health challenges. Today, we are trying to discern the future of the generations of Yemen through a quick look at the reality of education, and how will be its repercussions on the future of Yemen in the near future, so that we may avoid a future that we do not wish for our children, grandchildren and future generations that are still in the unknown. At the same time, we send a message alerting decision-makers to the future challenges facing future generations.
As we make this attempt to foresee tomorrow and anticipate the future, we do so as a result of a deep feeling of concern about the coming danger that reality foretells, and it is a real desire to draw their attention to fix what can be fixed.
Today, after fifteen years, my friend’s statement seemed correct, and although all the challenges still exist, a devastating challenge has been added to them, which is the fighting that has been going on for seven years and its negative effects are not hidden from anyone. Education had the lion’s share of these challenges; where the conflict between the parties caused widespread damage to the educational system, which was originally fragile and weak.
The conflict was the straw that broke the camel's back. Among its most prominent effects on the educational process are the lack of financial resources to cover the operating expenses of schools, the economic deterioration, the suspension of salaries for teachers for more than five years, and the government’s inability to print textbooks, as well as the destruction of infrastructure, bombing of schools or their exploitation for other purposes which are not educational, and the accompanying displacement or closure of some of them, and the stagnation of school curricula and their failure to keep pace with the times.
These factors, together or individually, have led to the deprivation of millions of Yemeni children of their right to education. According to UN organizations, there are about two million children out of school until the end of 2019, and nearly half a million children have dropped out of school, and the education of another three million seven hundred children has become at stake, according to UN reports, and most of those who sit in school do not have a suitable education and do not have a suitable environment.
This reality and these terrifying numbers– undoubtedly shocking– will produce for Yemen a generation that lacks the opportunity to grow and develop, who depend on the family and society, ultimately stuck in a life full of destitution and hardship, a depressed and troubled generation, carrying nothing but empty skulls that are easy to influence and program their minds with ideas and beliefs that may be a disaster and destruction, a source of fueling conflicts and a fuel for future conflicts.
A generation that has nothing in its head but revenge and everything that contradicts the thought of a normal person and the thought of the twenty-first century, then what do we expect from a generation whose vocabulary has been dominated by bullets, blood and murder which formed its consciousness and dispersed its thinking, and whose wishes were destroyed by the culture of death?!
If we want to get out of this frightening situation, urgent efforts must be made to prevent this dilemma from worsening. These efforts are to stop air and ground attacks on educational facilities and to treat them as safe learning spaces for Yemeni children and youth only, and they must not be used intellectually or politically for the benefit of any trend.
The minds of these generations are a trust that should not be nourished except with virtue, goodness, love and knowledge as well. The education authorities across Yemen should work together to reach an immediate solution to provide the salaries for all teachers and staff working in the field of education in order for the teacher to be psychologically and mentally stable as this is of paramount importance and impact on the quality of education.
Above all, the parties to the conflict in Yemen must work to achieve peace so that there is room for recovery and the return to normality of life for the generations. No sane person imagines, nor does logic or reasoning accept that in the twenty-first century we talk about basic rights for children, such as an appropriate teacher, a safe school, and a nurturing cultural environment, because they are self-evident rights that do not require negotiation or bargaining, and it is criminal that these tragedies are man-made against his children.
We are not talking here in a way that lacks hope. From the womb of suffering, hope may be born. People like the Yemeni people can defy difficulties and build a new Yemen with science and work, and a new Yemen may emerge like the phoenix that emerges from among the ashes if it wakes up from its slumber and does what is necessary to straighten its compass.
I tried here to describe the situation and connect the dots by looking closely at where the current situation is going with the future of the generations of Yemen. It is certain that a nation will not prosper unless it is prepared for a future based on science and scholars, and a generation will not enjoy a prosperous future if it does not have adequate education capabilities, while a nation will not be safe from future conflicts if its children are not nourished with the values of tolerance, brotherhood, patriotism, acceptance of opinion and other opinion, justice and democracy.
I hope that our wishes after fifteen years will not be the same as my friend’s wish fifteen years ago. There is a phrase that says: “Those who don’t have past, have no present and future.” I hope that the future of our generations will not be like the present of their parents. I also conclude this article with a famous quote by American novelist William Gibson: “The future is in our hands, but its most important parts happened a long time ago”.
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