Yemeni Immigrant creates an affordable virtual learning option for Arabic-speaking immigrants to level up their skills.
Author: YAMAN AHMED
When a new Yemeni immigrant arrives at the Detroit, Michigan airport, they are overwhelmed with excitement and apprehension. After all, this is the moment that validates all the hard work, patience and financial strain for a difficult and prolonged visa process. Yemenis of all backgrounds come with the hope of securing a job that matches their working/educational background, but most find it hard to transition and have no choice but to work at gas stations, restaurants or factories.
Dr. Waheeb Alsharabi is one of those stories highlighting the Yemeni’s resilience. He has spent his entire life learning and teaching. When he settled in Michigan in 2021, he hit the ground running, wasting no time to transform himself from a Yemeni citizen heading the department of remote learning at the University of Science and Technology in Sana’a to founding the Michigan Academy of Postgraduate Studies (MAPS) in 2021. In that same spirit of innovation and excellence, he put decades of knowledge and experience into his life and work abroad.
Dr. Alsharabi’s inspiration is the late Dr. Tariq Abolahoum of the University of Science and technology, the founder of “Open Learning” in Yemen, whose goal was purely humanitarian—reaching out to disadvantaged populations all over Yemen to extend them the opportunity to learn.
At the start of MAPS, 20 students joined, with 70% of the student body from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). Non-Saudi (as well as other Arabian gulf countries) nationals are generally barred from public higher education institutes. Therefore, students who join this pathway are self-motivated, often working full time and paying their own tuition. Despite the hardships, they seek to better themselves while still supporting their families.
Results Beyond Just Yemen
Currently 43 students are enrolled (that’s more than double the first class), with 60% from KSA and the rest from various countries, including Yemen, Jordan, and Djibouti. According to Dr. Alsharabi, for such an endeavor to thrive and grow, it must be sustainable. Unlike the free “Open Learning” program in Yemen, this two-year program costs a total of $5,000 in tuition. Current students are only paying $500 for the entire program to pilot the project. Scholarships are given to Quran memorizers and those with financial needs. So far, the academy offers business and Islamic studies programs.
Dr. Alsharabi oversees an advanced remote IT team across the USA, Malaysia, KSA, Yemen and Germany. Together, they have created their own enterprise resource planning system (ERP), with an integrated digital system for distant learning, including financial management, human resource, and student information systems. Faculty is in the Middle East, USA, Europe, and India. Students can interact with their instructors and use open-source resources. In Yemen, this remote learning is a challenge due to the availability of sufficient internet. Sana’a is the only place in Yemen with a 4G network and, therefore, adequate and reliable internet service.
Although it’s too early to analyze data on results, the feedback from current students continues, and there will be a focus on collecting information on job placement/improvement post-graduation. Dr. Alsharabi gave an example of a MAPS student from Yemen who is an IT specialist by training but as an expat, works as a waiter in a restaurant. The student hopes for a promotion to cashier once he is done with the program to increase his pay rate so he may send more money to his family in Yemen.
The advantage of this educational opportunity is that it’s more than just sharpening your knowledge and skill set. The goal is for the student to be more competitive in the job market and increase their salary. Also, the curriculum is in Arabic, which is the native language, making it easy for students to study without this formidable barrier. Unlike open online course providers out there (example: edX, Coursera, Udemy), MAPS provides continuous and timely individual support and feedback.
In a 2017 public comment commemorating the launch of “Open Learning” in Yemen, Dr. Alsharabi sums up the p
urpose of this pathway: “Those with financial hardship shouldn’t be deprived of learning, nor should those who are financially capable be limited in choice because they don’t have the luxury to attend in person; our goal is to stave off intellectual emptiness and bolster self-fullment, thus thwarting the lobbies of extremism.”
The impact of MAPS on the livelihood of its students remains to be seen. Student interest continues to grow, which is a good sign. Regardless, new ideas like this are needed to find new solutions to challenges faced by Yemenis.
If there's anyone you think may benefit from this program, they can get more information at https://macademyps.net/.