Standing just inland from the shore of the Arabian Sea, the University of Aden was once a lighthouse of hope for the people of Yemen, signalling progress and scientific knowledge for more than half a century. But seven years into the brutal conflict that has engulfed the country, the university’s light is dimming.
For young people in Yemen — who have grown up amid a deteriorating economy and a conflict that has kept the population on the edge of starvation — a university education is a lifeline to another world and a better life.
The university’s resources are dwindling, affecting every aspect of teaching and study while crumbling technology infrastructure has limited access to information for Yemeni students, hampering their ability to communicate and interact with the wider world.
“To keep up with the most recent developments in medicine, we need to conduct online research and participate in online education. Only access to computers and the internet make this possible,” says Abdulnassir Jubran, a medical student at the university.
Sahar Salem is a medical student in Aden University. She is one of just 6–7 percent of university-age women to enrol in higher education in Yemen. “This support that we’ve received, it has made a distinct difference in my journey here at the university. Online learning has created new opportunities to attend remote seminars, discussions, and activities with other universities,” she says.
Already serving over 2,600 humanitarians in Yemen with communications services, the World Food Programme (WFP)-led Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) stepped up to reconnect students with access to the internet and IT equipment.
With special funding from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, the ETC has endowed the university’s library and medical faculty with laptops, monitors, printers, and internet access — some of the foundations for obtaining an education in the twenty-first century.
“We were having such difficulties with teaching since there was no internet and insufficient equipment in the lab. Education can be so much more effective with these technology tools set up in the university,” Says Fath Alwakhathi, an instructor.
The ETC’s connectivity project has now changed the lives of 3,500 students and teaching staff and reinforced a virtual bridge between Yemeni students and the global student body.
The upgrade of internet services to fibre optic technology was a milestone in the university’s move to online learning.
“For the first time in Yemen, and through cooperation between the University of Florence in Italy and the University of Aden’s Faculty of Medicine, a distance learning program has been launched, using the internet service, the renovated facilities and the video conference system provided by the ETC through funding from WHO,” says Dr. Said Sawsan, former Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Aden University.
It is a much-needed morale boost for educators, many of whom continue to teach against a harrowing backdrop of city airstrikes and staff casualties. With university budgets strained, some instructors have even agreed to become volunteers to sustain their love of teaching.
“Even in this context, we have been able to keep up with the tremendous evolution of online education worldwide,” says Dr. Abdulhakim Altamimi, Dean of the university.
Most days, the university lab is now packed with students. Some are logging into online classes taught alongside their peers 4,713 kilometres away in Italy. Some are hard at work on laptops, conducting research for their dissertations. Others tap away intensively on keyboards, studying for their next exam.
In the middle of one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world, access to technology is helping Yemeni students set a course toward a better future.