Arian Mouj Sharifi
Recent stories on primary education challenges (Netaid, HRAC, AFP, Norway Post, Guardian, CNP)
As Millions Return to School in Afghanistan, Challenges Remain
15 April 2004
Girls attend class in Afghanistan
The first day of school in Kabul was nothing less than amazing, says
Nina Papadopoulos, who worked in Afghanistan from 2000-2003 with the
International Rescue Committee. Based in Peshawar in the North West
Frontier Province of rural Pakistan, near the Afghan border, Nina ran
education programs serving local populations, including thousands of
Afghan refugees. A special focus was placed on giving girls the
chance to learn.
"I focused mostly on primary and secondary education, but also on
literacy classes and health education in community-based classes in
Pakistan and Afghanistan," she recalls.
In the post-Taliban era, non-governmental organizations have been
working closely with local groups to rebuild the education system,
ushering in more children than small classrooms are equipped to
handle. At the start of the new school year this past March,
classrooms appeared to burst at the seams as millions of kids arrived
for the first day of school. Of special note was that girls—a great
number of them—were among those taking part.
"All these girls were coming out of the woodwork with their
backpacks," says Nina, who is now a Program Officer with the Aga Khan
Foundation, a NetAid World Schoolhouse partner.
In fact, according to UNICEF, which has joined forces with
Afghanistan's Ministry of Education to lead reconstruction of the
national education system, girls now account for 35 percent of total
primary school enrollment. Overall, in 2003, the number of children
in school reached more than 4 million—the highest number in Afghan
Today's progress seems a long way from the days when families who
wanted to educate their daughters were forced to do so "underground"
and in secret. But Nina and other education experts agree that
significant obstacles must still be overcome to achieve a sound
system that provides all children with quality learning.
Despite the promising numbers, scratching below the surface reveals
that scores of children who arrived for their first day of school
faced several challenges to learning: overcrowded classrooms, a lack
of educational supplies, and poorly trained teachers without an
"The first school year after the fall of the Taliban, there was a
record number of children enrolling in school, which was problematic
because there weren't enough schools, books or teachers. The quality
of education ended up being very low. Even now, 3 years later, there
are schools where there are student/teacher ratios of 50/1, and
teachers without effective skills."
Nina believes that the government must prioritize bolstering teacher
training. "Getting quality teachers—through recruitment and training—
is the biggest obstacle to ensuring the success of education. In my
opinion, you can have a school anywhere. A building is a building,
but a teacher can make a world of a difference in the lives of
children. This means teachers have to be paid and continuously
As UNICEF and other organizations are building schools and classrooms
to accommodate the booming numbers of young students, experts also
urge that focus be placed on rural areas, where enrollment rates are
still low, and not only on cities like Kabul and Herat.
A report released by the Human Rights Research and Advocacy
Consortium (HRRAC), "Report Card: Progress on Compulsory Education"
(PDF file), grades education efforts in Afghanistan on such key areas
as enrollment, completion, quality, management and resources. Primary
school enrollment rates in cities are as high as 87 percent,
while "just a few kilometers outside of these cities" about 50
percent of children are not in school, and overall drop-out rates
Girls face particular challenges in going to school. "There are still
plenty of rural areas where communities are reluctant to send their
girls to school, especially those that are not close to home. One
issue that needs to be addressed is the lack of female teachers. In
Afghanistan, it is fine for boys to have a female teacher, but girls
are not permitted to attend class led by a male teacher."
The Ministry of Education is currently working to remedy several
hurdles to strengthening the system. They are revamping outdated
curriculum and overhauling the entire education framework which once
focused on what Nina calls "war education".
While obstacles remain, the strong desire for education among the
Afghan people may be the most important factor in ensuring reform
continues and is successful.
"People in the country really value education in a way that you don't
see in places where it is sometimes taken for granted," says Nina,
who will be returning to Afghanistan in just a few months.
"They place an incredible value on basic education because they
directly correlate it with income generation and overall status. At
the end of the day, for progress to continue, education has to be
based on Afghan values of education—and it will be."
21 Mar 2004
Report card - Progress on compulsory education (grades 1-9)
Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium
Education scores "50/100" says NGO Consortium
The Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC) released
a "school report" today, urging policy makers to work harder to
address urgent and long term education needs in Afghanistan.
The report card (grades 1-9) recognizes key progress has been made in
enrollment and school construction, but finds key gaps in school
completion rates, policy management, quality of schooling and
"Overall, we give policy makers a "50/100" for their work on
compulsory education (grades 1-9) since 2001" says Dawn Stallard,
HRRAC. "If they are going to improve this grade in future reports,
they will need to work harder and commit themselves more fully to
giving this generation of children a real chance to be a future force
for peace and prosperity in Afghanistan."
As donors prepare to meet in Berlin, HRRAC calls on the international
community to provide long term funding for education and on the
Afghan government to emphasise the quality of education in their plan
to achieve their education targets by 2015.
Since 2001, Afghanistan has seen the highest enrollment rates in its
history with more than 4.3 million children attending primary and
secondary school in 2003. Still, more than half of Afghanistan's
children don't attend primary school and only 9% make it to secondary
The picture for girls' education is worse: less then 34% of those
enrolled in primary school are girls. In Zabul and Badghis provinces,
99% of girls are not enrolled.
Getting children into school is not the only problem. Drop out rates
are also very high and particularly so for girls "While some girl's
are enrolling in grades 1 and 2, the real challenge is keeping them
there" says Mirwais Wardak, Cooperation for Peace and Unity.
The number of female teachers is critical to ensure girl's
attendance. "Girls are starting school but qualified female teachers
aren't there to teach them. For example in Khost Province there is 1
female teacher for every 152 male teachers!" says Dr. Waqfi,
Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance.
HRRAC urges the Afghan government and international policy-makers to
address the constraints that prevent girls from attending or
continuing their education. This includes lack of female teachers,
distances to school and the need for older girls to be educated
separately from boys.
"The success story of education in Afghanistan is too often sold in
terms of numbers of schools built and numbers of children in school,
but it's not just about the numbers. Huge challenges exist with the
quality of education delivered" says Lisa Laumann, Save the Children.
The government needs to put more emphasis on raising the quality of
teaching and learning. This means continuous support to teachers and
setting national standards for educational achievement.
In the newly adopted constitution education for all is free and
compulsory until 9th grade. This is an ambitious and commendable
target, but one that requires strategic and long term resource
allocation, yet most donors only provide funding on a one year
basis. "There are no quick fixes in education. The education system
was on its knees in 2001. It will take sustained support to ensure
that all Afghan children can enjoy a quality education" says Sally
About the report
With the start of the 2004-2005 school year, we, the Human Rights
Research and Advocacy Consortium, decided to take stock of the
current situation of compulsory education (grades 1 -- 9) in
Afghanistan in the form of a school report.
Where to get the report
The report is available on reliefweb or by directly contacting us at
the address below.
ABOUT THE CONSORTIUM: The Human Rights Research and Advocacy
Consortium is a group of Afghan and international NGOs working in the
fields of humanitarian relief, reconstruction, human and women's
rights, peace promotion, research and advocacy. It was established in
early 2003 to engage in proactive research and advocacy on human
rights issues over a sustained period.
The consortium aims to ensure that Afghan voices become an integral
and important part of current policy discussions. This project is a
unique initiative both for Afghanistan and for other countries
emerging from conflict and insecurity. It brings together a group of
organizations to systematically promote human rights through ongoing
research, training and collective advocacy.
• Afghan Development Association
• Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission
• Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (advisory
• Agency for Rehabilitation and Energy-conservation in
• Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (advisory
• Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance
• Cooperation for Peace and Unity
• CARE International
• Mercy Corps
• Ockenden International
• Oxfam International
• Rights and Democracy
• Save the Children Federation, Inc.
To set up interviews with Consortium members, please contact:
Human Rights Research & Advocacy Consortium
0093 (0) 70 298887
Afghan Schoolgirls Poisoned; Taliban Militia Blamed, AFP Says
Bloomberg News (Switzerland)
(originally appear in Agence France-Presse 4-30)
April 30 (Bloomberg) -- Three schoolgirls were poisoned in
southeastern Afghanistan in an incident blamed on the Taliban
militia, the country's former rulers, Agence France-Presse said,
citing local military and government officials.
The girls aged between 10 and 15 are in critical condition after
eating biscuits given to them by a man on Wednesday in the town of
Khost, AFP cited Shahina Sharif, spokeswoman for the provincial
department of Women's Affairs, as saying. The girls attend the only
school in Khost that accepts females, AFP said.
The Taliban is seeking to ``deter girls from going to school,'' AFP
cited Khialbaz Khan, the provincial military commander, as saying.
Taliban spokesman Litfullah Hakimi denied the allegation in a
statement to AFP from an undisclosed location.
Women's activities were restricted under the Taliban regime, ousted
in December 2001. The militia's strict interpretation of Islamic law
included banning women from working and girls from going to school.
Two schools near Kandahar in southern Afghanistan were burned down on
Wednesday by suspected Taliban supporters, AFP reported earlier.
Norwegian-built schools in Afghanistan destroyed
30. April 2004
by Rolleiv Solholm
The largest girls' school in Kandahar, Northern Afghanistan, financed
by Norwegian funds, was destroyed by fire on Thursday.
This is only one of several Norwegian-built girls' schools which have
been burned down in Afghanistan during the last six months, NRK
In Kandahar, a group of men tied up the guard and set fire to the
school, which had just been rebuilt, a city official reported.
-We look at the torching of these schools as an organized campaign
aimed at preventing girls from receiving education, says Astrid
Everine Sletten, head of the Afghanistan Committee's office in the
Her view is shared by other international organizations in Afghanistan
Afghan authorities, however, view the incidents as "random terror".
-We disagree. Over the past year altogether 600 girls' schools around
the country have been wholly or partly destroyed by terrorists, while
none of the boys' schools have been touced, Sletten says.
The Guardian (London)
May 3, 2004
Girls 'poisoned by militants for going to school'
Greg Bearup in Islamabad
Three young girls in eastern Afghanistan were in critical condition
in hospital last night after being poisoned, apparently by militants
as punishment for attending school.
The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, said those responsible for the
poisonings, in the province of Khost, were less than human. He said
the attack had been carried out by terrorists and was the work of
"I will not call anyone an Afghan or a Muslim who poisons an eight-
year-old child because she is schoolgoing," Karzai said. "They are
Vikram Parekh, from the International Crisis Group, said there had
been a series of attacks on girls' schools, particularly in the south
of the country, in recent months but this was the first time children
had been attacked.
"A girl's school was recently burnt to the ground in Kandahar and
others have been attacked, but this is a horrible development to see
that the girls themselves would be targeted," he told the Guardian.
Few details of the incident were available last night, but militants
are angry about the Karzai government's reversal of a Taliban ban on
female education. Attacks on schools have also taken place in
Pakistan's neighbouring North West Frontier Province .
More than four million students are enrolled in schools this year -
more than ever before - including one-third of the country's girls.
But the transition has not been without problems and many
conservative families still refuse to send their daughters to school.
The poisoning followed a weekend of violence in Afghanistan after US
troops killed four people. According to the US military, it launched
the attack when one of its convoys was attacked south of Kabul.
A US spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Michael DeWerth, said two American
soldiers had been injured in the attack.
"Four unidentified anti-coalition militia troops were killed, two
(militants) were injured and were taken for medical care, and two
(militants) were detained," Lt Col DeWerth said. He said the US had
used air support to attack the militants, but provided no other
But Afghan officials disputed this version of events and said those
killed had been Afghan police. The provincial police chief, General
Haygul Salemankhel, told Associated Press the shooting had taken
place because of a mix-up as the convoy approached a police
checkpoint under cover of darkness.
He said three of his men had been killed and two injured, and that
the wounded men were being treated at the nearby US base. "Because of
a misunderstanding, they opened fire on each other," Gen Salemankhel
*An accidental explosion at a gas station has killed at least 25
people in western Afghanistan, the government said. At least another
40 were injured in the blast near Shindand, 360 miles west of Kabul.
May 4, 2004
Sesame Street goes to Kabul without Big Bird: Kuche
Sesame: Banjani, Fhirak added to cast to help teach
by Chris Wattie, writer for the Canadian National Post
The children of war-torn Afghanistan will soon have
their own version of Sesame Street, the television
program beloved of millions of children around the
But Kuche Sesame, as the 35-year-old children's
classic will be known in Afghanistan's majority
language of Dari, will not be the same show seen by
eight million preschoolers in the rest of the world.
It will have the familiar Bert and Ernie, Elmo and
Cookie Monster -- their voices dubbed in Dari -- but
Big Bird is replaced by Banjani, a giant green
creature with an Islamic cap, and instead of the
popular Oscar the Grouch, Afghan children will be
entertained by Fhirak, a furry blue know-it-all.
"We produced this project with our Afghan partners
with local colour, original Afghan music and local
names for the Muppets," said Leah Gambal, of Sesame
Workshop, the non-profit educational organization
behind Sesame Street.
"We wanted the children to be comfortable with the
characters and the show."
The 10 shows so far produced will be shown mainly in
schools or travelling video shows because there are so
few television sets in Afghanistan and only
intermittent electricity for the homes that have one.
And while the producers wanted the shows to be real to
Afghan preschoolers, Ms. Gambal said they did not want
to go so far as to place Muppets on the bomb-scarred
and impoverished streets of most Afghan cities.
"We wanted to promote the idea of play -- which is a
new and valuable thing to Afghan children," she said.
"They have been through a very difficult time because
of the political situation.
"We wanted to create a space that was fun, friendly
and where they could learn ... and not have to think
about the world around them."
Afghan government officials this week accepted the
first of more than 400 educational kits prepared by
Sesame Workshop and the Rand Corporation, including
tapes of the new show, a teachers' handbook and school
Ms. Gambal said Kuche Sesame is aimed at teaching
children the basics. "Even something as basic as a
bright, colourful poster of the [Dari] alphabet can be
a wonderful tool to promote literacy.
"We really want to focus on basic skills, like
hygiene: washing your hands."
But in Afghanistan, whose education system was all but
ruined by the hard-line Islamic rule of the former
Taliban regime, even teaching children the basics can
One of the stars of the show will be Gulabi, a bright
pink female Muppet who cannot decide whether to be a
pilot, an engineer or a doctor, a potentially
explosive concept in a land where Taliban sympathizers
still fire-bomb schools that dare to teach girls.
"She's a happy, fun Muppet ... but she's really about
learning and education," Ms. Gambal said. "We're
looking to create positive role models."
The Koche Sesame episodes are funded by the Rand
Corporation and the government of Qatar.
While they are to be broadcast on national television,
most of the episodes will be shown in classrooms, at
women's centres, orphanages, and in travelling vans
that will bring the videos to the country's far-flung
Sesame Street, which began its 35th season this year,
is shown in an estimated 140 countries around the
world, from China to South Africa, and has 20
different productions to reflect the widely varied
cultures of the kids who watch it.
Kuche Sesame is largely an offshoot of the Arabic
version of the show, an Egyptian production known as
mariam   May 10th 2004, 2004 3:22 PM
Kabul: Partial Reconstructions is an installation
and public dialogue project that explores the multiple meanings and resonances of
the idea of reconstruction -- as both process and metaphor -- in the context of present-day Kabul.
www.kabul-reconstructions.net is an online discussion forum, information
resource, and medium for the communication of questions and answers about the reconstruction between people inside and
outside the city of Kabul itself.