Early Yemeni education, with regard to medieval disciplines of law, religion, history and poetry, was sophisticated and, for a country of its type, remarkably widespread. Its people contributed nobly to medieval Islamic civilization. The Al-Azhar University of Cairo was well known for its education during the 10th and 11th centuries and it attracted students from nearby countries such as Ethiopia, Arabia, and Somalia. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, there was slow progress in the field of education. Prior to the 1962 revolution, no proper educational system was in place. Civil war and internal political upheaval only worsened the situation.
In 1990, the literacy rate for the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen was 39.1% (males, 52.8%; females, 26.1%). The rate for the Yemen Arab Republic was 38.5% (males, 53.3%; females, 26.3%). In the unified Republic of Yemen, adult illiteracy rates for the year 2000 were estimated at 53.8% (males, 32.6%; females, 75.0%). As of 1999, public expenditure on education was estimated at 6.6% of GDP.
In 1997, primary schools enrolled 2,699,788 pupils and employed 90,478 teachers. Student-to-teacher ratio stood at 30 to 1. At the secondary level in the same year, there were a total of 354,288 students. As of 1999, an estimated 61% of primary-school-age children were enrolled in school, while 37% of those eligible attended secondary school.
There are two universities: Sana University (founded in 1970) and the University of Aden (established in 1975). Total university enrollment in 1997 reached 65,675. In addition, over 2,000 Yemenis are being educated at foreign universities.
Education in Yemen is a government priority, some even say the top one, yet the poorest still struggle to benefit fully from it, and the gender distribution remains skewed. The basic education program lasts for 9 years and is compulsory in theory, if not universally so in practice. The process completes with the award of an intermediate school certificate.
Secondary school completes the 12 year school education cycle. Students who choose to complete their university preparation follow a common curriculum for grade 10. In grade 11 they switch to literary or scientific tracks. At the end of grade 12 all write their general secondary education certificate.
Alternatively, they may switch tracks, and move to a technical secondary school, a vocational training center, a health manpower training institute, or an agricultural secondary school according to their needs. In this way, a variety of different skills at different levels are acquired in a country continually crying out for more skilled hands.
Western style tertiary education really only began in the 1970’s when Sana'a University was established. Today, there are 9 state-funded ones, and a variety of private universities and colleges too. The Yemen University of Science and Technology was established in 1994 and has 4 faculties, namely medical sciences, science and engineering, sciences and humanities, and an international college that specializes in business, information technology, arts, and design.
The Hadhramout University of Science and Technology is illustrated here.