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The Killid Group, May 6, 2016

Open the world of education to girls

What stops girls from enrolling or completing schooling in Afghanistan?

By Abeda Moadeb Telayee

Nearly a third of girl students drop out of school mid-way. The reasons could vary from lack of security to discriminatory social customs.

Mujib Mehrzad, spokesperson of the Ministry of Education, says traditional ways have sunk deep roots in society. Even where schools may be close to their homes, families do not let their daughters study after middle school.

In many district schools, either there are not enough teachers or very few students. Mehrzad said teachers only want to be posted to schools in urban centres even in provinces that are considered safe. In conflict-wracked provinces like Kandahar, three out of 17 districts have no functioning school, while eight of the remaining districts have schools but no girl students. People are scared to let their daughters go to school.

Nazar Mohammad Samimi, spokesperson of the Kandahar education department says that in three districts girls-only classrooms have been created. But even there, the dropout rate in the higher classes is high because of social customs.

Schoolgirls are treated in an Afghan hospital May 12, 2009 after they took ill in Kapisa province, north of Kabul
Schoolgirls are treated in an Afghan hospital May 12, 2009 after they took ill in Kapisa province, north of Kabul. At least 98 people were admitted to hospital. (Photo: Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

Head of education in Arghestan district told Killid that some 110 girls were enrolled in a school in the past year, but this year (since March 22, 2016) there is not a single girl student. In Shahwalikoot district too there are no female students. For Ruqia Eshaqzi, the head of women’s affairs in Kandahar, the practice of child marriage is a major impediment to female education. Families take huge dowries for the marriage of minor daughters. Some 30,000 girls registered their names in schools, but more than half never attended. Parents are reluctant to send daughters to schools that have no female teachers.

Ministry of Education spokesperson Mujib Mehrdad explains that female teachers who were appointed after clearing an exam in provinces and districts fail to attend school. “We (the ministry) had to hire teachers on contracts,” he says. Trying to find a long-term solution to the problem, officials considered offering monetary incentives to tempt teachers to schools in remote rural areas. But even the proposal of raising salaries by 30 percent failed to help.

Shahla Arefi, the head of the women’s education department, thinks another way to increase female education levels would be to make it mandatory for girls to study up to grade 12. She calls for the strict enforcement of laws governing the minimum age of marriage. For girls the legal age of marriage is 16 years. Around half the marriages are of under-age girls, says Baheer Weyar, deputy director of the national programme of education in the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has created a campaign together with the Ministry of Education to enlist girls in the school system. The five-year plan also includes incentives for female teachers in remote areas, increase in the number of female teachers, and teacher training, according to Mahrukh Yusufzai, the head of cultural affairs in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

Influence of religion

Ruqia Eshakzai from the women’s affairs department in Kandahar would like tribal and religious leaders to get involved in keeping girls in schools. “They are responsible for raising public awareness,” she says. The department has held several meetings with mullahs and community leaders but “the mullahs feel embarrassed to speak about the rights of women,” she says.

Lutufullah Haqparast, a religious studies scholar, said Islam encourages female education, and it is the responsibility of Islamic clerics to deliver the message to people through their sermons in mosques and other places.

For Mahrukh Yusufzai, in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, raising public awareness is essential. She says the ministry holds conferences every year and invites mullahs from all provinces. Each year, they promise to educate their congregation on the importance of female education and rights of the girl child.

Quality matters

While the Ministry of Education focuses on enrolment figures and teacher recruitment, Rafiaullah Bedar, spokesperson of AIHRC or the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission calls for quality education. Raising the capacities of school-going children should be the goal, he feels.

A 2013-study by AIHRC showed there were many schools without buildings and furniture. Some 4,200 students in 17 provinces were interviewed by AIHRC researchers. Only half the students said they sit on chairs in their classrooms, while 62.5 percent said their classrooms were in permanent structures.

Engineer Mohammad Yusuf who heads a non-governmental organisation for streetchildren called Ashiana is adamant that the quality of education matters more than the enrollment figure. “When children have come from far to a school and either the teachers do not teach properly or the students do not have books, obviously they will learn nothing,” he says. However, officials in the Ministry of Education think the focus for now should be only on basic education. The government should set aside adequate funds to meet the goal.

Meanwhile in Ghor, Masooma Anwari, the head of women’s affairs, feels the province has been ignored by the Ministry of Education. There are interested girl students, she says, but there is no infrastructure for their education. Bibi Hawa Khoshiwal, the head of women’s affairs in Paktika, says social prejudices and the absence of professional teachers are big obstacles in the way of female education.

Originally published on May 1, 2016

Category: Women, Children, Education - Views: 4631