Editor’s Note: Global awareness is accelerating cultural changes in many countries. Emancipation of women has been active in European countries for over 100 years, and is now impacting nations in the Middle-East, Africa, and South America. Education of women is an important part of the process. Distance learning enables learning at home to be dovetailed with chores, child-raising, and other family responsibilities. It makes it possible for many more women to receive higher education and overcome obstacles of time and distance that would otherwise hinder their participation.
Obstacles Facing Yemeni Women in Pursuing their College Education and their Perceptions toward
e-Learning as a Solution
Ali Aljarrah Abdelmuhdi, David W. Stephen,
Maisson H. Bin Yahya, Maisa M. Aldumairi
Jordan and Saudi Arabia
This study aimed to determine the obstacles that face Yemeni women in pursuing their college education and their perceptions toward e-learning as a solution. With the cooperation of local authorities in Yemen, the study sample consisted of 195 Yemeni women holding the high school diploma, to whom a questionnaire was distributed 230; the response rate was high, with 86% of the 230 requested self-reports returned.
The results of study indicate that obstacles to higher education that face Yemeni woman include poverty, early marriage, children, husband and/or family's rejection, and issues of co-education (male and female) at college. The findings also indicate that there are positive perceptions about e-learning that may be a partial solution for Yemeni women who wish to pursue college education.
The researchers recommend that local agencies in both the public and private sectors in Yemen should work to build awareness about the importance of women’s education and should continue to improve educational opportunities of Yemenis in general and women in particular. Moreover, the researchers recommend that more effort should be made to help Yemeni women understand their human rights in general and their educational rights in particular. The authors suggest that the Yemeni government could pursue these goals by recognizing the viability of e-learning and developing it as an important component of the Yemeni educational system
Keywords: e-learning, college education, Yemeni Women, perceptions, obstacles.
Introduction and Context
The authors feel a responsibility to describe their assumptions and bias up front since all the evidence we present clearly supports the use of e-learning for distance delivery of education. We endorse Sedig’s assertion that an educated mother is better able to able to achieve her maximum human potential and raise her children to contribute to the overall development of their country and their nation (Sedig, 2000). The literature review and our findings support our belief in the efficacy of e-learning as a means to improve the delivery of education to the citizens of developing nations in general, and to women in particular.
Since women represent half the world’s population and could represent half of the total productive labor force, we endorse the United Nations Development Program assertion that “it is necessary to seek cultural and educational institutions to train, prepare, and give full opportunity for woman to participate with thought and experience and practice” to develop themselves and the nations in which they live (UNDP, 2007). In addition to advancement, education provides a means for women to protect themselves from exploitation.
We believe that human rights in the Arab world should be improved and that education, especially for women, a disenfranchised group, is a key to the advancement and development of each Arab county’s human capital resources. We further believe that distance education and e-learning is a way to sidestep the social barriers that obstruct this advancement. We are optimistic that distance education, especially the use of e-learning, will move educational systems forward, especially in the most influential aspects that touch the women lives, and especially for disadvantaged or marginalized women who are otherwise denied formal education and developmental opportunities.
The authors must further reveal that we believe that the most significant obstacles to promoting educational opportunities for women are related to the customs and traditions operative in many developing countries in general, and in the Arab world in particular.
Perhaps most important to note is that we make some risky assertions about development and education in both developing nations and “the Arab world” and we compound these risks by generalizing those assertions to Yemeni women in this study. However, there is a dearth of information and research regarding education in the Arab world in general and Yemeni women in particular, so we must work with what little cumulative data we have. The primary authors are natives of “the Arab world” themselves and believe their perspective and generalizations are as accurate and as objective as possible.
When education contributes to the development of women, it has far-reaching and positive consequences for the societies in which they live. We assert that, by prima facae evidence, developing countries, including those in the Arab world, are in dire need of social and human capital development, human rights improvements, and access to all types of education. Education is a key to improving the welfare and status of Arab women and their families in general and Yemeni women in particular.
We paraphrase the United Nations Development Program’s definition of “development” to be “the means of creating an environment in which individuals can develop themselves to the maximum of their ability in order to live their lives according to their interests and needs.” A report of UNESCO (1996) indicates that “women’s education is one of the best investments for the future. Whether the goal is to improve the health status of the family; or increase the number of children enrolled in schools; or even improving social life, the efforts of communities will succeed only through maternal education and improve the conditions of woman in general.”
No inquiry of this kind can be free of such bias and assumptions and we hope that this study adds to the body of knowledge that will make further studies less speculative and eventually serve to improve the quality of life and living standards of people in developing nations, including those in the Arab world, particularly women, and especially women in Yemen.
E-learning and Women in Developed Nations
This literature review attempts to build a case for using technology as a means to develop and improve the status of women in developing nations and the Arab world. The advent and use of computer and information technology has had a profound effect on education at all levels and in all contexts. Beginning in developed countries, computer-based learning quickly spread throughout most all developed nations’ educational systems and began to extend their out-reach to students beyond their traditional institutional and domestic borders giving education new, global boundaries and making developed nations’ education accessible to underserved populations within and without their borders. Today, some form distance learning is a de facto element of most curricula, whether it be in the form of ordinary e-mail or run to sophisticated virtual classrooms and full-scale online delivery of content. In this paper, the efficacy, ubiquity and acceptance of e-learning technology as a valid and useful educational tool is considered prima facae. Electronic delivery of education and access to the requisite technology presents pedagogical problems but, nevertheless, has indisputably become a major facet of education.
A study for the World Bank (2007) indicated that, in North America, the number of women enrolled in e-learning education delivery exceeds that of men. The study stressed that female students preferred to use the computer to communicate with teachers and other students. The study offers evidence that, in some cultures and contexts, some women prefer the privacy afforded by e-learning, which mitigates the feeling of embarrassment resulting from matriculating side-by-side with males. Joseph (1997) emphasized that e-learning can reduce the impediments of gender problems in higher education. Likewise, Teeter's (1997) study displayed that using the Internet motivates students to interact with each other through online debate and to collegially and cooperatively answer questions in their homework no matter what the gender mix in the online classroom. Students also confirmed that e-learning is fun and interesting, and that contributed to achieving desired educational outcomes. According to Dutton, et.al. (2002), worker-students prefer e-learning because it helps them to develop themselves as well as offers a way to create a balance between their studies, their work, and their families.
The World Bank study (2007) shows that women in the continent of Asia use distance learning to improve their income and to create jobs through which they can help their families and educate their children. In addition to developing their skills, strengthening their self-confidence, and learning new things, the study reveals that distance education and e-learning plays a major role in encouraging young women to enter the fields of science and technology. Dwaikat (2004) points out that e-learning encourage women to pursue and succeed in academic and scientific achievement.
E-learning also serves those faced with geographic isolation, as a study in Canada indicates (Andrusyszyn & Cragg, 2006). It details the success stories of nine women whose physical and social isolation resulted in missed job opportunities. E-learning served to educate and develop them and help them secure jobs closer to home. For these women, distance education solved a host of interrelated problems: they no longer had to travel long distances to work every day, which in turn improved their job performance and had positive effects on their multiple roles as mothers, wives, and members of their community. E-learning allowed them to reclaim their abandoned dreams to continue their education, develop themselves, and contribute to the welfare of their families and community.
We have seen that at-risk subgroups within developed nations can benefit from distance education and e-learning. If distance education and e-learning is an effective way to develop the educational levels for women and, by extension, improve the lives and human rights of women in developed and newly industrialized countries, then, in developing nations, it is rational to hope that the same educational initiatives would also do so.
E-learning and Women in Developing Nations & the Arab World
Maguire (2001) points out in her study entitled "Gender, information technology, and developing countries that “women's access to technology and training is one of the most important requirements for the participation of women in the global knowledge economy. Therefore, attention should be given to encouraging women to deal with technology and to provide opportunities for them.” She also notes that “women in the developing countries in particular face some problems in accessing technology, and so it is important to provide opportunities for them to deal with the technology, as providing enormous potential will improve the status of women.” Information and communication technology has an effect on women’s development (Alfrih, 2005) through “a change in ways of thinking and dealing with the modern means of communication, which gives women a broad educational dimension, particularly as they were able to keep pace with technology” (Khalil, 2004).
E-learning has advantages that can transcend social barriers that women face in pursuing traditionally delivered education. In a published interview with the regional director of the forum for African Education in Kenya, Faith Macharia says that e-learning can support the education of women and girls by providing alternatives for access to information (Effat Alhindi Center, 2005). Bourlova (2005) study showed that adult students were seeking educational opportunities that were more appropriate for their circumstances so that they can reconcile their work life with family obligations. Despite the lack of desire to return to the traditional school, they found a solution in e-learning.
Mhehe's (2002) study conducted in the Tanzania Open University underscored the need for educational institutes to look for ways to enhance the educational opportunities for women, giving them “a real choice that can enable them to strike a balance between their social life and their studies” All would concur that e-learning has the advantage of allowing students to interact and learn in their leisure time, which gives students more control over their work-family-study schedule.
E-learning has the potential to help enable women to access information outside the schoolroom, such as information about their health and social status, and how to manage and administer other information that would improve their socio-economic conditions and their families (E-learning Africa, 2007).
Facts and Figures in Yemen
On the bright side, Yemen ensured the right of its citizens to education through the establishment of schools and educational institutions with the approval of free and compulsory basic education and the expansion of technical and vocational education. Thus, on a surface level, Yemen has pursued progressive human capital development strategies by targeting education. In addition, Yemen has worked hard to obliterate the widespread illiteracy in its population.
However there is a bleak side to the picture. A report by the Central Agency for Statistics in Yemen for the year 2006 estimates a total population of around 19,685,000 people, of which about half (9,648,000) are women. However, the report shows that 29% of the population aged 6-14 years is not enrolled in basic elementary education, and nearly two out of three of those out of school in this age group are young girls. At the secondary level, three-quarters (75%) of the children between age 15-17 have never enrolled in high school. Of these adolescents, four out of five are girls (83%) who don’t go to school. In 2006, only 134,406 students graduated from high school (44,564 females and 89,642 males). Of these high school graduates, only one out of ten (13,605) had the opportunity to register for college. Extrapolation gets dicey here, but it is quite safe to say that less than one percent of the female population makes it to the college door, and the figure is much likely closer to one-tenth of one percent.
These figures support Abdullah's (2005) study in which he shows that the male children in Yemen have better opportunities to attend schools than females, and that the bulk of the children out of school are females. These are probably overwhelming understatements. No matter how the conditions are assessed, these observations clearly reflect the existence of an ever-increasing gap between the enrolment of boys and girls in school, at all levels, and especially at the college level. Despite the efforts by the Yemeni government to improve the educational system in general, girls' education remains in trouble and development is progressing slowly.
The study addresses the following questions:
1. What are the obstacles or impediments that may prevent Yemeni women from continuing their college education?
2. What are the perceptions and preferences of Yemeni women regarding e-learning?
1. This study was restricted to Yemeni women who successfully graduated from high school but had not enrolled in college.
2. This study is limited to a self report questionnaire completed voluntarily by a convenience sample of women in the Sana'a district in Yemen.
The sample consists of a convenience sample of 230 Yemeni women who graduated successfully from high school, but who have not continued on to college. A team of volunteers administered the questionnaire to 230 subjects; 195 (85%) completed the questionnaire, a highly robust response rate. The study questionnaire was distributed with the assistance of volunteers who are members of the Women's National Committee of Yemen, as well as some friends of the research team, to available Yemeni women in the Sana'a region who met the criteria for inclusion, high school graduates who, although eligible for admission, did not enroll in college.
Data Collection & Instrument
The researchers developed a questionnaire composed of three sections:
Section 1 - General information about the subjects and their schooling.
Section 2 - Impediments or obstacles that they perceived as impeding them from attending college.
Section 3 – Perceptions toward e-learning as a solution for continuing college education.
In the developmental stage, the questionnaire was reviewed by five raters, faculty members at the University of Jordan with wide experience and keen interest in e-learning; the instrument was modified to reflect their constructive feedback and was subsequently deemed by them to have good content validity.
Results and Discussion
The data offer more opportunity for analysis than the summary presented here, but some of the key results, the most obvious ones, are presented below with brief discussion.
Section 1 - General information: Sixty-nine percent (69%) of respondents have waited more than four years without perceiving that they have the a viable opportunity to enroll in college.
Section 2 - Impediments or obstacles: Sociological issues were the most common obstacles to matriculation. Subjects were impeded from pursuing higher education mostly because of social pressures. The average number of family members was eight persons; many of the subjects were already married and some of these eight family members were their own children. The results showed a number of other obstacles that prevented these Yemeni women from continuing their college education. These reported impediments are summarized in Table 1 below.
Obstacles that prevented Yemeni woman from college education (n=195).
High cost of the study
Having new babies
Preoccupation with the housework
Parents fear of society's perception toward working woman in an environment with the opposite gender
Co-education (Male and Female)
Family prefer to teach boys only
Fear of spinsterhood
Parents refused outside work for woman
Low scores in the general secondary exams
Limited disciplines in the universities
Decrease in the number of the public college
Mismatch in the examination for admission to college
A summary of Table 1 indicates includes the following observations:
First, the perceived “high cost” of education was one of the greatest obstacles to continuing a formal education reported (63%). We presume that this perception applies to the total “opportunity cost,” not just the cost of tuition and books. We presume that this opportunity cost includes the cost of lost income from going to school rather than working, and also includes a complex set of substitution costs of not being available to do non-financially rewarding work that a full-time housewife and mother would do to support the family, such as producing food and cooking, caring for children and other dependents, making clothes, etc., all as part of supporting other family members who are working to produce an income to support the family group.
Second, it is useful to combine the next most frequently cited impediments, “early marriage” (61%) and “having new babies” (54%). These seem to go hand-in-hand and these findings support what the researchers already knew: the National Commission for Women and the Central Agency of Statistics in Yemen (National Commission for Women, 2003) report that the large size of the Yemeni family is a barrier to the spread of education and community development and also results in a low standard for living. The lower standard of living would seem to compound the perceived high cost of college. An early marriage for girls is also associated with ignorance about birth control, which results in a larger family unit.
Third, it is useful to combine the next two most often cited impediments, "husband’s rejection" (48%) and “parent’s rejection" (46%). In the case of married women, it comes as no surprise that her husband’s attitude would mirror that of his parents’ (and his wife’s) in discouraging or forbidding her pursuit of high education. This may be related to the fact that most Yemeni parents fear their daughters leaving the house alone; some parents even do not see any importance for college education, especially for a woman; and some believe that women should only be full-time house wives. Clearly, these women felt strong social pressures to fill traditional gender roles rather than to break the mold and educate themselves. These results are consistent with the results of a study by a centre in Sana'a Daly that shows that almost 47% of the families of girls surveyed did not care for the education of girls (Effat AlHindi Center, 2005). The results also support findings of the report of the National Commission for Women on the lack of awareness of the importance of education for girls (National Commission for Women, 2003).
Fourth, it is helpful to consider the next six obstacles as a sub-group of “husband-parent rejection.” Family authorities (parents and husbands) tend to dictate the role of these women: housework is the preferred role. We infer from our close understanding of the context in which these women live that family authorities tend to fear that a young woman is behaving inappropriately by mixing with men, co-educationally, outside the scrutiny of family bounds. This pressure is a strong disincentive for these young women to go to school. Forty percent (40%) of the women report that education is considered to be a boys-only endeavor by their family authorities. The impediments of “time” (37%) and “distance” (35%) can be considered a pair of variables that represent “absence from the home.” All six of these obstacles conform to the study of Mhehe (2002) in Tanzania of husbands who refuse to allow their wives to continue their college education, an attitude we assume extends to the parents, whether or not the woman is married.
Fifth, the two items, “fear of spinsterhood” (30%) and “parents refused outside work for women” (28%), may apply especially to the unmarried women in the study. Even if married, the respondents might have described their situation in this manner, projecting themselves into the role of an unmarried girl of marriageable age. If unmarried after high school, then her pursuit of college delays marriage further and, hence, spinsterhood is a threat, by definition. In addition to demanding early marriage, the Yemeni culture also promotes marriage-by-birth-order and an unmarried older sister places her younger sisters in a poor position since there is pressure for the elder to marry before the younger.
The impediments mentioned above appear to have the most profound sociological implications. The rest of the cited obstacles seem to fall into two categories, “personal issues” and “problems with enrollment.”
Taken together, none of the results are surprising. They seem to mirror findings of other researchers in other cultural contexts in which women’s education is problematic. For example, Burelova (2005) highlights some of the obstacles faced by adult women in Canada which prevent them from continuing their education, such as: work comes first, high financial costs, having young children, and health problems. Mhehe (2002) lists the obstacles and type of impediments facing women in Tanzania, and includes financial problems, lack of support from family or spouse, the work of women and their inability to reconcile their responsibilities at home and field, and the burdens of studying. Although the institutions are open to women, their policies make matriculation difficult because of their often observance of time and schedules, attendance requirements, absenteeism penalties and other seemingly reasonable institutions policies. Even in developed countries, traditional schooling is a poor fit for non-traditional students.
All of these findings are congruent to Evan's study (1995), who points out similar cultural barriers, similar physical conditions and difficulties, the same lack of support from family and spouse, comparable residence problems (living far from the educational institution), and similar obstacles imposed by the educational institutions themselves.
Section 3 –Perceptions toward e-learning: The subjects were asked whether or not they would favorably consider distance delivery of education, and if so, which delivery mode was a preferable, online internet-based course or the use of direct television feeds to a site convenient to them. Seventy-eight percent (78%) reported a positive attitude about distance education. Seventy-five percent (75%) preferred e-learning through the Internet, and the remaining 25% preferred e-learning through direct television. Thus, we can safely assert that there are positive perceptions towards e-learning in this sample of women who are potential consumers of distance education. Online delivery is the clear preference.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The instrument demonstrated high external validity, concurring precisely with other previously published data.
The researchers believe that the observations in the previous sections are similar to most developing countries in general, and, given the cultural similarities, to most Arab countries in particular. In the norms and traditions of the prevailing dominant multinational Arab culture, the education of women is undervalued (Yemen is a good example), and when valued (Morocco is a good counter-example), considered less important than of that men.
The study supports the assertions of the authors that e-learning has an important role in the development of Arab women in general and Yemeni women in particular, as it can help them supplement their education or college training and offer them opportunities for new professions in the future.
The decline in the contribution of women in society’s development in some Arab states, particularly in Yemen, can be ascribed to factors related to the lack of access to education, and the lack of adequate preparation to participate in public life. In spite of the large number of legal documents or the existence of laws mandating compulsory educational in many developing countries, despite lip service to the importance of fostering support for women and pledges to emphasize their role in national human capital development schemes, the reality is quite the opposite and little or no visible changes seems to be occurring in many developing countries.
The authors recommend the following:
1. It is crucial to raise the level of awareness of the importance of woman's education and its positive effects on childrearing.
2. The gap between women’s and men’s education should be addressed and attempts made to attenuate it.
3. The Yemeni Government should develop cooperation between colleges, civil institutions, and the business sector to offer e-learning technology and delivery at early stages (pre-college) of the education system. This will put technology in place and train teachers and students to use it so that it can be an effective tool at the college level, and also serve to facilitate vocational training and public welfare education initiatives.
4. Although the Yemeni government should do more to make education accessible to women like those in our sample, the primary obstacles are cultural. Yemen is a poor country. Even in a relatively wealthy country like Saudi Arabia, it may take only a year or three to build a state-of-the-art school; but changing the culture that feeds and supports it takes much longer. However, this does not mean that change is not possible, not does imply that people do not want change. The women in this study have a genuine desire to further their education and to better themselves and their progeny.
5. If it is true that social change begins on an individual level, then there is good reason to believe that e-learning, which allows private study, somewhat away from public scrutiny and social pressure, could be an effective tool to help the women in this study to pursue a college education and become positive role models for social change.
In conclusion, this study reinforces the assumptions and bias the authors admitted at the start. It is edifying to find that our perspective is supported by the data in this study. The authors are prepared to accept the criticism that we have crafted a study to prove our prejudices. We also leave it to the reader to assess the appropriateness of generalizing these findings and conclusions to other populations, particularly those populations that share a similar Arab culture. We are confident that this study adds some useful data to the scant body of academic literature on the state of women’s education in the Arab culture of Yemen
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Abdelmuhdi Ali Aljarrah received his Ph.D.(2000) Colorado State University Fort Collins CO with a major in Education and Human Resource Studies and an emphasis in educational technology and distance education. He has taught from 2002-present as Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Educational Sciences, University of Jordan in Amman.
David W. Stephen is Assistant Professor at King Saud University, College of Languages and Translation (COLT) Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Maisson H. Bin Yahya is a Graduate Student in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Jordan.
Maisa M. Aldumairi is a Ph.D student in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Jordan.