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EDUCATION-AFGHANISTAN: Schools Shut Down on Taliban Orders

Hadi Ghafari and Adila Kabiri - Pajhwok Afghan News*

KABUL, Jul 31 2006 (IPS) - Lack of infrastructure and lawlessness have forced thousands of children out of schools in Afghanistan this year, according to news reports.

A number of districts in southern Uruzgan district have no schools at all. Where these exist, there are no students because of a shortage of teachers, teaching material or fear of the anti-government Taliban.

The rebels have regrouped in the southern provinces to challenge government authority through armed attacks on Afghan security forces and institutions.

Haji Gul Ahmad, a resident of Khas Uruzgan district, told Pajhwok Afghan News that while there was a school in his district, parents have pulled their children out after the Taliban warned both teachers and students to stay away.

The warnings have been issued in what are called “night letters”, leaflets pasted on village walls, urging people to send children to mosque schools for a religious education instead.

“Impart religious education to your children instead of the modern teachings; otherwise all of you will be killed,” a villager, Hakimullah, quoted from one of the letters distributed in the district.

The threats seem to have worked even in the provincial capital, Tirin Kot. Mohammadullah, a resident, said that most schools were shut because of poor enrollment.

Uruzgan governor, Abdul Hakim Munib, admitted: “Closing down of schools was one of the biggest problems faced by the province.”

Elsewhere, in central Daikundi province, 38 schools were on the brink of closure last week because there were no teachers. The future of some 8,000 students was at stake.

The provincial public education director, Mohammad Raza, told Pajhwok Afghan News that he could do nothing to stop the schools from closing because the teachers had walked out over poor salary levels. Neither were these schools provided with adequate teaching materials.

The province, which was carved out of Uruzgan two years ago, has 18 high schools, including five that are exclusively for girls. However, not even one of the schools has its own building.

In the western Herat province, education department officials have blamed the poor school enrollment on the failure of reconstruction plans. Mohammad din Fahim, director of the education department, said inadequate resource allocation has hobbled plan implementation.

The international donor community has strayed from considering Afghanistan as a priority. “If we were not tied in agreements and plans, they (donors) would have shifted their projects to other countries like Iraq,” he said.

But Syed Ali Ahmad Mansuri, head of the economy department, denied there was a lack of resources. “The funds allocated for Afghanistan can never be shifted to Iraq or other countries,” he clarified.

He said that Herat was getting its share from the central funds and passing it on to non-governmental organisations for implementation of plans.

There has been some improvement in infrastructure in the province. Munira, a student at the vocational institute, said earlier she was studying in a tent-school.

However, schools that have received generous financial support still have myriad problems. An example is the Sultan Ghiasudin Ghori High School in the provincial capital which has been flush with funds from France and Germany.

Yet, according to Khwaja Mirwais, a teacher at the school, many of the classes are held in makeshift classrooms. “Though our school is a model in the province, still students of 15 classes are in tents pitched on the grounds,” he added.

The teachers said the tents were ragged after many years use and could no longer be used. Money allocated for the education department should be spent on improving the infrastructure in all schools, according to Mirwais.

A new report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) early July said that the ministry of education has estimated that school enrollment may have fallen this year. School closures and the inability of the government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to open new schools due to the violence are cited as reasons. Some five million Afghan children were in school in 2005.

The U.S.-based rights group has documented some 200 attacks on teachers, students and schools in the 18 months. At least 18 teachers and education officials have been assassinated.

The incidents continue. On July 18, a high school was set ablaze in Wazakhwa district of the southeastern Paktika province. Two classrooms, stationary and furniture were gutted in the overnight attack. (*Released under arrangement with Pajhwok Afghan News)

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