By Kreshma Fakhri
An ambitious multi-million dollar exercise to modernise the curriculum in Afghan schools has been hit by glaring mistakes in textbooks printed for the first time. Officials have not denied there is a problem, but their views are different.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) has paid 91 million dollars for the printing of new textbooks for schools as part of a planned massive overhaul of school education in Afghanistan. The authors were paid handsomely to ensure the books were of the highest quality.
In reality, teachers and students in Afghan schools are struggling to make sense of the poorly produced textbooks that are riddled with both typographical and factual mistakes.
The matter has been raised both in public and in Parliament where MPs (members of parliament) blamed it on the "nonchalance and corruption in the Ministry of Education". An unrepentant MoE has given an assurance the mistakes will be rectified.
Schoolteacher Farooq Nekbin in Habibia High School, Kabul City, said there are "many scientific and factual mistakes" in the new textbooks. He pointed out that the invention of the microscope has been dated differently in the textbooks of classes 10, 11 and 12.
A teacher of Mathematics at the same school, who did not want to be identified, said, "The figure that has been given for the SI unit of force, one Newton, on page 40 of the class 11 textbook is completely wrong."
Nadera Saeedi, the head of the mathematics department at Rukhshana High School, Kabul, was of the opinion the new textbooks have simply been plagiarised by its authors. "The text of the books has been copied from other countries' books," she said. "They are very difficult; nobody can solve the exercises."
One of the physics teachers at Rukhshana High School said she found 15 mistakes in the 15 pages of the new physics textbook that she was teaching grade 11 students from. She said the mistakes were glaring; they were mostly in the drawings.
The new curriculum is riddled with problems. It has not kept in mind the level of education in Afghanistan. Also, the books are organised illogically.
MoE officials have not denied there is a problem, but their views are different.
Abdul Zaher Gulistani, director general of Curriculum Development & Compiling of Textbooks, admitted there are shortcomings. "We accept the existence of the mistakes but these mistakes cannot be used to question the content of the textbooks," he insisted.
His deputy director, Asadullah Muhaqiq, said the mistakes would be taken out of the next edition of the textbooks.
Sediq Patman, Deputy Minister for Academic Affairs at the MoE, said had the authors approved the proofs there would have been no mistakes. This was not possible in Afghanistan. "The books are not printed in our printing houses they are printed outside of the country."
MP from Herat, Khalil Ahmad Shahed Zada, who is a member of the parliamentary cultural commission, blamed the "nonchalance of authorities" for the shoddy production of textbooks. "Definitely there is nonchalance of the authorities. If the mistakes happened during the printing it was because of lack of supervision." He said Afghan schoolchildren should have got the best of books because "we pay the money to have the best". "Even the books that are available in the bazaar have so many mistakes," he lamented.
Shahed Zada said the parliamentary commission was not consulted either when the new curriculum was decided or when the books were published.
Head of the literature department at Habibia High School said MoE had asked the views of teachers about the quality of books after they were printed. "They (MoE) should have invited the experienced teachers before the curriculum was finalised," he said. "Now they request our views. What is the use of giving our view when everything is done!"
Gulistani, the director general of Curriculum Development & Compiling of Textbooks, dismisses the criticism. "The books followed a due process. What is the point of asking opinions before the work is completed?"
The project to reform curriculum in Afghan schools has nearly completed a decade. Millions of dollars have been spent. Some officials in the MoE and Educational Curriculum Development Directorate said the cost has mounted because of the delay, the employment of external specialists and exorbitant expenses in producing the textbooks.
Gul Ahmad Saghari, the Head Author and academic member of Educational Curriculum Development Directorate, explained: "Principally, a text book is compiled within three years by a compiling team. We gave the books once to external specialists and once to internal specialists. Everyone made improvements. Everyone got her or his dollars and left. Now it is the sixth year that the work is going on. Our work has become organised recently to some extent."
MoE officials said roughly 400 people have been working since 2002 to revise the curriculum. Director General Gulistani said half of these have been external advisors paid for with assistance from the World Bank. "They were Afghans who are based abroad. They worked with us for one year, and gradually left. Only 40 of them are still working with us; 34 are working in the Islamic department."
Even chief author Sagari has complained there has been considerable disquiet over the salaries paid to external experts and locals. The Afghans based abroad "worked with us for exorbitant salaries … we worked for small salaries, sitting up all night to improve the books."