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Commentary Contract Teachers in Hadramawt: When the Solution Becomes A Problem

اقرأ المحتوى باللغة العربية

The vast size of Hadramawt governorate, nearly a third of Yemen’s total area, presents a daunting task for the Yemeni government in providing public services and meeting the demands of scattered communities. With the onset of war, the practice of employing contract teachers — educators hired on a contractual basis rather than full time — has become widespread. The practice is aimed at mitigating the shortage of regular teaching staff in public schools and at sustaining the governorate’s struggling educational system. This approach, however, was poorly conceived and has been marred by clear irregularities that need urgent remedy.

Community-based initiatives led by prominent Hadrami businessmen, such as Salem bin Mahfouz and Abdullah Bugshan,[1] have been instrumental in establishing schools in areas in need and employing teachers outside the formal educational system. For instance, in an effort to advance women’s education in Wadi Hadramawt and attract female teachers, the Bughsan group recruited only female educators for a school they founded in 2016. Bugshan advocated for their integration as public employees, encouraging many contract teachers to flock from Coastal Hadramawt to the Wadi.[2] Local non-profit organizations, such as Al-Awn Foundation for Development, have also supported the education sector in Wadi and Coastal Hadramawt, and have hired 310 contract teachers to date, in addition to supporting a charity school in Doan.[3]

The over-reliance on contract teachers in Hadramawt started with the onset of war, which took a heavy toll on the education sector and government finances, resulting in mounting strikes by regular teachers demanding their salaries. This prompted local authorities to take on more temporary teachers to make up for the shortage of teaching staff in public schools. Compounding matters, many teachers are retiring – the city of Mukalla alone saw 88 retirements last year.[4] The opening of several new schools, especially for girls, has made the shortage of teachers even more acutely felt. Hiring contract teachers thus became a catch-all solution for the increasing number of students and schools in Hadramawt,[5] the halt of formal recruitment by the government, the influx of university graduates seeking employment, and the retirement of teachers.

A Flawed Recruitment Process

The contracting process has entailed both procedural and financial challenges. To start with, the qualifications for eligible contract teachers were unclear, and hirings included a large number of graduates from disciplines unrelated to education. The recruitment of unqualified teachers has inevitably led to a deterioration in the quality of education and a mismatch of teachers’ specialties with subjects taught. A teacher with a degree in business administration can end up teaching mathematics, while a law professor teaches Arabic.

Financial constraints have further hindered the process. The government’s inability to allocate funds to hire more full-time teachers prompted former governor of Hadramawt Ahmed bin Breik to establish a fund in support of the education sector in 2016. The fund was financed by fees imposed on products imported through the port of Mukalla.[6] However, government agencies reportedly made it difficult to direct these tariffs to the fund, and accessing them required arduous follow-up and leveraging personal connections.[7] In any case, the allocation was barely enough, at around one billion Yemeni rials (YR) (about US$720,000).[8]

The Snowball Effect

The hiring of contract teachers has since snowballed. The number of contracted teachers has risen from tens, to hundreds, to thousands, with 11,000 reportedly hired in Coastal Hadramawt in one year alone.[9] In Wadi Hadramawt there were, as of late 2022, 5,800 contract teachers,[10] which has somewhat alleviated the shortage of teaching staff in local schools. Nonetheless, this approach has failed to resolve the challenges crippling the education sector.

Faced with such large numbers of contract teachers, and a lack of resources to consistently pay their wages, many of these new contract employees have done what most civil servants, including full-time teachers, have throughout the war: look for other job opportunities to make ends meet. A university degree holder earns just YR55,000 (about US$40) a month, while a high school diploma holder earns YR45,000 (about US$32), often paid late or on an irregular basis.[11] Many teachers have had to devote less time and attention to teaching as they pursue supplementary employment, which has had a detrimental effect on learning and the level of educational attainment for students.

Poor Incentives

Despite efforts to organize training courses for contract teachers to improve their skills, teachers have shown little or no commitment to attend given the meager financial returns or incentives. With the exception of basic training courses supported by international organizations, the expertise and skills of contract teachers remain largely neglected.[12] That the teachers are apathetic is understandable. Their wages are low, and the lack of support from the relevant authorities is disheartening. The few who have been able to take over formal positions from retiring permanent teachers have primarily done so through personal connections.

Moreover, an ill-conceived policy of deploying teachers away from their hometowns limits their interest and ability to attend training courses. Teachers are sometimes deployed to rural areas, away from their families, with no financial incentives to help them cover additional hardships and living expenses. In addition, there is an unequal distribution of classes among teachers, with some having as few as six classes a week, while others have up to 15.[13]

Adding to the issue, many teachers have reported not receiving a copy of their signed contract. Only a few school administrations provide teachers with copies of their contracts.[14] There are other legal discrepancies: of approximately 17,000 contracted teachers hired since 2016,[15] only 500 were officially recruited by the competent authority in Hadramawt, the Office of the Ministry of Civil Service and Insurance, while the rest were recruited through the offices of the Ministry of Education, although they are not vested with the authority to hire.

A Different Approach is Needed

It was the protests of regular teachers demanding better conditions that partly triggered the hiring of contract teachers, only for these to also resort to striking to demand formalization of employment, or compensation for its short-term nature. In response, two committees were formed in Coastal and Wadi Hadramawt[16] in late 2018 to represent contract teachers, but their endeavors failed, leading to the resignation of the Coastal Committee. A committee headed by the governorate’s undersecretary for financial and administrative affairs was then formed in September 2022 to look into the issue and keep a tally of contract teachers.[17] But at the time of writing the committee’s findings have yet to be disclosed.

Addressing the issue of contract teachers requires the development of clear contractual policies. These must include specifying the qualifications necessary for contract teachers and ensuring that interested candidates undergo training courses as a prerequisite for obtaining the job. Priority should be given to graduates from university faculties of education and relevant disciplines. The Office of the Ministry of Civil Service and Insurance should be the sole contracting party in coordination with the offices of the Ministry of Education. Secondly, the monthly allowance for contract teachers needs to be urgently reviewed. Contract teachers must also be provided with a copy of their contract and given priority in any formal appointment to permanent positions as full-time teachers. This would motivate interested individuals to develop their skills and meet the terms of the contract in a way that serves the overall educational process. Lastly, the contracting process should be temporary, and viewed as a step toward formal recruitment based on clearly defined procedures, which may include continuous assessment of the skills, performance, and commitment of contract teachers.

This commentary was produced as part of the Yemen Peace Forum, a Sana’a Center initiative that seeks to empower the next generation of Yemeni youth and civil society activists to engage in critical national issues.

  1. WhatsApp Interview with full-time teacher in Mukalla, formerly a contract teacher with the Bugshan group, July 26, 2023.
  2. WhatsApp Interview with Mohammed Abdullah Qafzan, head of the Contract Teachers Committee in Al-Shihr, January 26, 2023.
  3. WhatsApp Interview with Abdullah bin Othman, Chairman of Al-Awn Foundation for Development, January 28, 2023.
  4. WhatsApp interview with an official from the Office of the Ministry of Education in Hadramawt, July 26, 2023.
  5. In Al-Khansaa Schools for Girls, located in the outskirts of Al-Shihr, there were 31 contract teachers compared to 13 permanent teachers. WhatsApp interview with Wafaa al-Ardhi, Principal of Al-Khansaa School for Girls, November 9, 2022.
  6. Each large and small container of goods imported through the port of Mukalla was charged 10,000 and 5,000 Yemeni rials, respectively, while every liter of fuel imported through the port was charged 2 Yemeni rials. Interview with Mohammed Abdullah Qafzan, head of the Contract Teachers Committee in Al-Shihr, November 2, 2022.
  7. WhatsApp interview with a former official at the Office of the Ministry of Education in Mukalla, July 25, 2023.
  8. Ibid.
  9. WhatsApp interview with Mohammed Mubarak Hamdan, head of the Contract Teachers Committee In Coastal Hadramawt, November 5, 2022.
  10. WhatsApp interview with Saleh Kortab, head of the Contract Teachers Committee in Wadi Hadramawt, November 15, 2022.
  11. In-person interview with a male contracted teacher at Al-Mallahi School in Al-Shihr, November 1, 2022.
  12. These include training courses by SOUL for Development, as well as courses organized under the “Restoring Education and Learning” project, which is funded by the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education, and implemented by Save the Children, UNICEF, and the WFP. In-person interview with a female contracted teacher at Al-Nuban School, Al-Shihr, August 9, 2023 and WhatsApp interview with Hassan Al-Shanini, a former member of the Committee of the Education Support Fund, August 9, 2023.
  13. In-person inerview with a female school principal in Al-Shihr, October 15, 2022.
  14. WhatsApp interview with Thikra Battambak, Vice Principal of Al-Mallahi School in Al-Shihr, November 10, 2022.
  15. WhatsApp interview with Mohammed Mubarak Hamdan, Head of the Contract Teachers Committee In Coastal Hadramawt, November 5, 2022.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Phone interview with Amin Baabbad, Director-General of the Ministry of Education Office in Coastal Hadramawt, November 8, 2022.