According to a UNICEF report released last week, 43.7% of children aged 7-12 are not attending school in Afghanistan. Aljazeera’s 101 East says this statistic is dominated by girls, with two out of three young women not attending school. While issues such as unequal gender norms, child marriage and safe routs to school contribute to the issue, the 101 East episode has shed new light on how corruption is moulding Afghanistan’s education, based on an independent report on corruption within the Ministry of Education.
Aljazeera illustrates the issue by looking at the Sayedul Shohada School in Kabul, a microcosm of Afghanistan’s education issue. To accommodate for its 14,000 students deficit of teachers and space, children only attend school for four hours a day, with the school teaching three shifts per day. While boys and girls can attend school together, they are prohibited to share classes and girls have to learn outside or in tents. Japanese aid donated two buildings to the school specifically for girls, but the school council decided to only allow boys to learn inside. The 101 East report suggests this is because the girls continued struggle may attract foreign aid. Despite Afghanistan’s security situation making it extremely difficult for organisations to visit, overseas organisations invest billions of dollars into education, leaving the question of where the money is going.
The anti-corruption report’s most alarming finding was the low quality of teachers. Ian Caplan, a contributing researcher, says, “the majority of teachers that we spoke with suggested that the new teachers coming in… had to pay a year’s salary in advance in able to even get a teaching position.” Therefore, even though there is a shortage, 75% of newly trained teachers are unemployed. Because of the rich being prioritised, the teachers employed have also been found to teach subjects for which they are not qualified, significantly lowering the quality of the education provided.
Afghanistan’s education situation has undoubtedly improved since the Taliban was overthrown. However, in the rebuilding process, an opportunity for a new and well thought-out education system is being abused by the Ministry, as well as school councilors and third party school monitors for NGOs. A country reforming after 17 years of war should force teachers, or any worker, to pay for their employment. Responsibility needs to be taken by foreign aid, who need to put their own plans in place to ensure their projects are successful, instead of throwing money at an issue and expecting it to disappear. While still in war, putting laws in place to stop such things happening may be inefficient, which emphasises the need for NGOs to ensure that their work shapes Afghanistan the in a meaningful way.
In saying this, their work, and the work of independent researchers like those who created the anti-corruption report, needs to be commended for helping Afghanistan become livable after 17 years of war. Under the Taliban, women were not allowed to attend work or school at all, and boys education had a narrow focus on religious studies to fulfill Taliban agenda. The Taliban was overthrown in 2001, just weeks after the United States declared war on them because of their refusal to surrender Osama Bin Laden after 9/11.
With the correct planning and the prioritisation of children, Afghanistan can re-create an education system to be proud of. This may be considered overly optimistic, but with continued help in effective ways, Afghanistan becoming a place for its people instead of a battlefield for outside agendas may finally become possible.
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