Afghanistan has one of the worst records on education in the world

BBC Worldnews Services, April 27, 2000
By Kate Clark in Kabul

Children's fund Unicef estimates that only 4 - 5% of primary aged children get a broad based schooling, and for secondary and higher education the picture is even bleaker.

Education has always been weak outside the cities, but Kabul used to boast a university attracting scholars from India and the Middle East.

Twenty years of war has meant the collapse of everything.

Both sides in the long running civil war prefer to spend money on fighting. One school near Kabul survives through development agency aid and local community support.

"These children are very lucky to have a school" says teacher Bilal Mohammed. "When they go to other villages, they wear their pens in their shirt pockets, to show off the fact they go to school."

Strict Islamic law was imposed in Afghanistan when the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996. Since then, religious education has become increasingly emphasised at the expense of other subjects.

But in villages far from central control, children learn reading, writing and maths as well as Islam. "Before the school opened, I was looking after my father's sheep. School's like a treasure", said one child in Pashtu.

At this school, girls attend as normal. But in Kabul and other cities, the Taliban shut down girls' schools. Like other female workers, they sent women teachers home.

Girls' schools return

Gradually though, growing numbers of girls are getting an education. At first, girls studied secretly in teachers' homes, under constant fear that these home schools would also be closed down.

The standard alphabet text book in these Afghan schools was introduced not by the Taliban, but the mujaheddin, with help from an American university.

In the eyes of many mullahs, secular schooling leads to decadence, immorality, and too much freedom for women and girls.

However, the desire for schooling runs deep in Afghanistan, even among the uneducated. But the chances of getting a decent education are very slim.

A whole generation of children is losing out, prompting questions about where this leaves the future of this devastated country.

h t t p : / / w w w . r a w a . o r g