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Dr. Shihab Ghanem

Ashraf Girgrah, B.A. B.Ed

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Last update July 2020  التحديث الاخير في
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الدكتور عبدالله السياري

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الدكتور شهاب غانم
(ألامارات المتحدة)
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A short history of Education in Aden 1839-1967

For the first 17 years of British India rule of Aden, nothing much was recorded of schools or education after the British invasion of Aden in 1839 and later the annexation of the neighbouring regions in South Arabia.

‘‘Many children were schooled in the village mosque where instruction was oral and the emphasis on memorizing the Koran rather learning to read and write. Many children remained illiterate.’’(1)

The British at that time were engaged mostly in securing and consolidating their possessions in Aden. At their service was their maritime force fire power. Their aim was to control and   secure their global sea passages, trade and commerce.

‘‘In 1854, Sir Charles wood, President of the India Board, presented to the Court of Directors a document which came to be known as 'Wood's Education Dispatch'. The document set out 'a comprehensive scheme for the diffusion of practical knowledge, through the English and vernacular languages' to all classes in India. The object of the new education of the new policy was to improve the condition of the Indians and equip them for government service. The Court signed the document on 19th July, with a recommendation that the principal officers of every district in India should use their influence in furthering the cause of education.’’(2)

‘‘In a circular to the political officers under the Bombay Government, Lord Elphinstone added: 'Government confidently trusts that every servant of the State, whether European or Native, will regard the diffusion of Education as a chief part of his official duties'.

When Coghlan visited Lahj in December, 1856, he acquainted the Abdalis with his intention of establishing a school in Aden. The sons and nephews of Sultan Ali welcomed the idea and expressed their readiness to attend the school when it was opened.

Coghlan wrote :

‘‘If it were possible to give these boys a solid education in their language and in ours, the influence for good they may exercise  on the next generation is beyond calculation, by it we should instruct them in our system, and attach them by a link which would not be easily severed. Commerce would increase, we should hear no more of stoppage of the roads, and the frequent paltry squabbles which have their origin in ignorance and bigotry, would cease with the spread of knowledge amongst the people.’’

‘‘The school was started in 1858, with the object of raising a class of young men fitted for employment in public service and possibly to attach our bigoted neighbours to use by the community of feelings and interest which must follow in the wake of a sound education.’’

However, these hopes were frustrated, and the school was closed at the end of February 1860. The town people, and especially the Arabs for whom the school was founded, did not make much use of it. Most of the pupils were children of Indian soldiers and camp-followers, and these children have gone to the regimental schools.

At the time the Aden school closed, it had 68 pupils, 40 from the military lines and 28 from the town, only half of whom were Arabs. By the way of encouraging the Arabs to send their children to school, they were charged no fees, but this exemption was not a sufficient inducement. Hardly any Arab child attended for more than two weeks. Sultan Ali's sons and nephews did not attend.

The school did not give instruction in Islamic faith, nor indeed in any other faith, and Badger attributed the Arabs' lack of interest in the school mainly to the absence of Koran from its curriculum. The Arabs taught (and still teach) the Koran to their children along with the alphabet, if not before it.

In 1866, a new school was founded at the recommendation of Merewether. Unlike the old, the new school welcomed all children, be they from the town or the camp, regardless of race or religion. The school had a headmaster (first a European, and then a Parsi) and two teachers, an Arab and a Parsi.

It was divided into two sections, elementary section and secondary, and each had three classes. The elementary section, like the old school, was intended primarily for Arab children, and to attract them, the Koran was taught besides reading, writing, grammar, and arithmetic. Education was free, and the language of instruction was Arabic. The children admitted were aged ten and eleven. In 1866-7, the section was reported to be 'well attended'. In 1870-1, the highest monthly attendance was 186 and the lowest 150.  Girls were mentioned for the first time in this year.

In the secondary section, the subjects taught were English, mathematics, and geography. The language of instruction was English, and the boys promoted to this section were given an intensive course in that language before they started regular lessons. The age of the pupils ranged from twelve to sixteen. The fees were one and half rupees per month. Pupils who came from regimental schools did not pay, and to encourage the Arab boys to further their education, those who moved up from elementary section were charged only four Annas per month.

In 1866-7, the average daily number of boys who attended this section was 50, of whom five were Arabs.  In 1870-1, the monthly attendance was never below 40, and once it rose as high as 73. There were six Arab pupils in this year.

The failure of the secondary section to attract many Arabs was due to several reasons. It was not free, it did not teach the Koran, and the subjects it taught were considered profane.’’(3)

Although there are no detailed official records of the spread of schools and education in Aden after the period of 1870-71, sporadic expansion in school building continued and the spread of education reached other parts of Aden. A Government school was opened in Mukalla in 1876. Another in Steamer Point (Tawahi) in 1880 and another in Sheikh Othman in 1882. This trend of building schools apparently continued until the 1900s.

The Minister of Education, Mr. Mohamed Hassan Obali declared in 1966 that ‘‘Primary, intermediate and high schools were established in Aden in the later years of the 19th century. In the year 1910, the first College for Higher Education was commissioned in Aden. Scholarships were granted to students to pursue overseas higher studies.’’(4)

During the 1900s Aden and its neighbouring regions witnessed the dawn of a bright future and progressive era in education. The building of schools flourished. In 1920s Aden witnessed the commissioning of the first Government formal primary school (Residency, Al Saila). Next came Aden Commercial Institute which was established in 1927. Missionary schools were also established in Shiekh Othman, Steamer point (Tawahi) and Crater.

Some of the early  prominent personalities who advocated and helped advance  the spread of learning and education in Aden were the late Al Haj Mohamed Yassin Rajamanar who established Aden Commercial Institute and the late Hamoud Hassan Ali who became Superintendent of Education in 1919. He devoted 37 years of his career in the development and spread of education.(5)

In the year 1937, the British decided to sever ties with the British India Government and declared Aden and its neighbouring regions as British Colony and Protectrates. At that year the British built a private school for the sons of the Ruling Sultans and Shiekhs of the Protectrates in Gabal Haded, Aden.

 In 1936, Aden celebrated the arrival from overseas of its first Aden Yemeni graduates.  The late Dr. Mohamed Abdo Ghanem graduated in Arts from the American University in Beruit, a member of Al Makawi family in Engineering and the late Dr. Affarah in Medicine.
They were joined later by the late renowned lawyer Mohamed Ali Luqman who arrived with a Law degree from India.

In 1937, the first Aden Yemeni to assume a higher official government position in education was the late Dr. Mohamed Abdo Ghanem. He was appointed as Education officer while the British John Amber was appointed as Superintendent of Education.

‘‘It is an education in the service of the British Empire.’’(6)

‘‘In actual fact this situation was not prevalent in Aden Colony. It was the general pattern of British colonial policy in education and was characterised by irrelevance of curricula to social needs.’’

‘‘Structure: The system during the colonial era consisted of two structures which were distinct in Aden (4-3-4) and the Hadramawt
(4-4-4), despite the fact that the Colonial Office took over responsibility from the India Office in 1937 for Aden Colony and the Protectorates. The British authorities in Aden sought the assistance of two experts to advise on the best way to organise the educational system: J.P.Attenborough, who then became Director of Education, advised the structure of 4-3-4 for the colony, while V.L. Griffiths from Bakht ar-Rudha in the Sudan advised a structure of 4-4-4 for the Hadramawt. A third structure was the Quranic schools, which are the traditional institutions prevalent all over the Islamic world. However, this last structure was phased out as the other two expanded. The other Protectorates were not given any consideration at this early stage of direct rule in the area.

We may note that these colonial structures were made for an educational process which academically oriented up to the time of evacuation of the British forces and the emergence of the new Republic in 1967.’’

‘‘However, in the fifties, it was suggested that students in the only secondary school (Aden College) might branch into academic and commercial classes. This at the request of the monopolist companies which flourished at this period and needed cheap labour to do the clerical jobs.

From 1956 a GCE Advanced Level class was started for some of the best students who completed secondary school with more than six passes in the GCE O Level. Higher education was never thought of except for a handful of bright students of privileged classes or those children from other social classes with very sharp and intelligent faculties. we can come to some conclusions about this structure :

1) The educational structure reflected the socio-political system in the Colony and the Protectorates which was itself socially biased.

2) The educational structure did not meet the socio-economic needs of society as it did not reflect the varied employment needs of the economy.

3) The educational structure was characterised by sharp selective measures and very few children were permitted to the higher levels. However, the sharp selectivity trait coincided with another characteristic inherent in this biased structure, i.e. no outlet for those drop-outs from schools to train them in craft schools and make them good productive citizens. The result of this high wastage of the system was that children might revert to illiteracy and do jobs they were not prepared for, or emigrate.

4) Because the structure did not  respond to social and economic needs, the monopolist companies and the British themselves had to contract top-level managerial and second-class officers from the commonwealth; this leads us to the conclusion that the structure did not prepare for a level of citizenship capable of taking over full responsibilities.

5) From the above we may sum up that the structure was not by any means designed to prepare its output for nation-building.’’

Foot Notes

Lieutenant Colonel Harold Fenton Jacob (1866–1936) was an officer in the British Army who spent the majority of his time in service in Yemen. First published in 1923, Kings of Arabia examines the history of Yemen from the 17th century to the aftermath of the First World War.
The history of Aden, 1839-1872 by Zaka Hanna Kour
Chapter 6, pg100-110, Published in 1981 
Published by Frank CASS and Company Ltd.

3) The history of Aden, 1839-1872 by Zaka Hanna Kour
Chapter 6, pg100-110, Published in 1981 
Published by Frank CASS and Company Ltd
4) Aden 1839-1967, pg 77-78 by Nagmi Abdul Mageed, 2007 Published by Abadi Center for Studies and Publications, Sana’a, Yemen.
5) Fatat AlJazeera, Arabic daily newspaper, issue 71, second year, May 18th, 1941.
Contemporary Yemen: Political and historical background edited by B.R.Pridham, University of Exter, Centre for Arab Gulf Studies,Chapter 8, Pg 102, ‘Education for national-building: the experience of the People's Democratic republic of the Yemen.’  by Saeed Abdul Khair Al Noban
7) The Church of Scotland South Arabia 1885-1978 by James McLaren Richi,
published by Tent Publications.

‘‘In 1835 when Haines first visited Aden the total population was estimated at a mere 800 souls, 250-300 of whom were Jews. Haines returned in 1837 and 1838 and submitted to the Indian Government that the population was 600, comprising 300 Arabs, 250 Jews and 50 Banyans. ’’

Sultan Ahmed Sultan of Lahej1900_edited-1

Sultan Ahmed Fadel Al Abdali

Sultans sons old times_edited-1

Sons of Sultans and Sheikhs before joining the school.

‘‘In 1840,  just one year after the occupation of Aden, there was an attempt on the part of an  English missionary by the name of Reverend Samuel, a Jewish convert to Christianity,  to establish a school for the Jews in Aden to be financed by donations.''
‘‘Nothing materialized because of the absence of schools that can provide sound education in English, mathematics, and general science.  Some Jewish parents found themselves forced to send their sons to the schools of Roman Catholic Mission and their daughters to the Convent School of the Good Shepherd.’’*

*The Jews of the British Crown of Aden, by Reuben Ahorni, paper published in 1994 by E.J Brill Leiden, the Nederland.


St Joseph High School Crater

St. Joseph High School, Crater. It used to be called Al Badri. Built in 1850, it was a Catholic school run by an Italian. He was a priest.

Catholic Church Tawahi

St. Anthony Church and school in Steamer Point, Tawahi, built in 1864.

‘‘In 1911, on the urge of the Jewish Agency in Palestine, a Jewish school was founded by Yehudah Messa in Crater, Aden. The King George V Jewish School for boys. It had a capacity for more than 300 students. In 1939, The Jewish community asked the British government to recognize the school and grant it financial assistance. The British government obliged by granting an annual subsidy.’’

The Prince of Wales visiting the Jewish community1921

The Prince of wales visiting the Jewish community in 1921. The picture is taken infront of the Boys school.

Residency School AlSaila

 Aden Residency School or Madrasat Al Sailah was opened in 1920s. On the right is the Jewish school.

Crater view from Al Rizmait

The white buiding is Aden Commercial Institute in Crater, opened in 1925. The Garrison Church is in the rear at the top of the hill.

The Late Mohamed Ali Luqman

The late Lawyer Mohamed Ali Luqman in 1936. He was a source of strength in advocating the spread of education through his literary publications. He also campaigned for the rights of women to education.

Dr.Mohamed Abdo Ghanem_edited-1

The late Dr. Mohamed Abdo Ghanem the first Aden Yemeni to be appointed as Department of Education officer in 1937 and later became Director of Education.

Dr. Ahmed Affara with hospital staff

Dr. Ahmed Saeed Affara is standing on the left of the 2nd row, wearing Khaki shorts.
He was a memeber of the Christian mission located at Sheikh Othman called Keith Falconer Mission. It ran both  a school  and later a hospital under the same name. However at a later stage the hospital was renamed to “Dr. Affara Hospital”(7)

Keith Falconer Missionary was a source of strength for the British.The missionary under the supervision of Dr. John Cameron Young (a Scots) opened a hospital in Sheikh Othman in 1908. He offered medical services to the public. But, after 6 years the hospital was closed because of First World War, 1914. As soon as the war was over he reopened the hospital in March 21st, 1921.

Jebel Hadid School1938

Jabel Hadid school opened in 1937  for sons of Sultans and Sheikhs of the Protectorates.

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