Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Schools Short on Buildings and Books

While officials hail progress on education, only half the country’s schools have the premises and teaching materials they need.
By Maiwand Safi
  • Unlike many, the Ghazikhankel school in Tagab, Kapisa province, has its own building, even if there is no glass in the window yet. (Photo: Isafmedia/US Navy  Petty Officer 1st Class Mark O’Donald)
    Unlike many, the Ghazikhankel school in Tagab, Kapisa province, has its own building, even if there is no glass in the window yet. (Photo: Isafmedia/US Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Mark O’Donald)

“I go to school over there,” said Khaled, pointing to his destination. But there was nothing there – no building, not even a shack. 

“Do you see those trees?” he asked. “Our school is there under the trees; we sit under them and I use this sack as a mat.”

This makeshift school attended by Khaled, a pupil in fourth grade, is typical of Kapisa, a province northeast of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. Some Afghan schools are housed in tents, others at least have walls that provide some kind of shade.

The deputy director of education in Kapisa, Abdul Rasul Safi, told IWPR that 78 of the 212 schools in the province had no premises of any kind.

“It’s now summer and the weather is hot. The education ministry must pay serious attention to this problem – using foreign donor funding – and address it to some extent,” he said.

Khaled’s description of the teaching at his school in Kacha, part of the Alasai district, reflects a situation common across Kapisa and other parts of the country.

“We have no chairs or textbooks. Our teachers are tired of teaching. They rarely come. They complain about their salaries,” he said. “It would be better if we didn’t go to school at all.”

The education system is often cited as a major achievement of the post-Taleban administration and its international partners. But stories like Khaled’s show just how much still needs to be done to reverse the damage done by three decades of war.

When a Soviet-backed administration was in power in the 1980s, mujahedin groups often targeted schools that they believed were nests of communist ideology. Their capture of Kabul in 1992 produced an internecine conflict in which schools were looted and commandeered. Then came the Taleban, who allowed schools to reopen, but just for boys, and prescribed only a loose curriculum based largely around Islam.

Since 2001, international donors have injected large amounts of money into construction programmes, so that the education ministry now says that half the 14,100 schools in Afghanistan have the premises, laboratories, libraries and teaching materials and equipment they need.

Afghans flocked to send their children to school as soon as it became to be possible, although boys still outnumber girls six to four on the school rolls. But many feel let down by the continuing shortage of textbooks, trained and motivated teachers and basic classroom facilities.

Education ministry spokesman Abdul Sabur Ghofrani argues that while a great deal of progress has been made, the government cannot do everything at once.

With 7,000 schools still lacking buildings, he said, “The education ministry is using its development budget to build premises for 1,000 schools a year, and will continue to address this problem.”

Tens of millions of US dollars have been spent on printing new textbooks for Afghan schools, but few seem to be reaching Kapisa, although it is fairly close to the capital.

Education official Safi the shortage of books was a “big problem in some of the schools” in the province. He added that he had made the education ministry in Kabul aware of this and other issues, but that nothing had been done about it so far.

“I’m a biology teacher, but I’ve been unable to find textbooks in the library which I could use for teaching the eighth and ninth grades,” Ataullah, who works at the Abdul Ghias Shahid school in Kapisa’s Tagab district, said. “So how are the students supposed to find the textbooks?”

Atal, in the 12th, final grade at another school, Ghazi Osman, said some of his classmates had ordered their own textbooks from Kabul or Jalalabad. Those – like him – who could not afford to buy their own books borrowed them from those who had them.

“We have neither textbooks nor professional teachers. How are we supposed to get into university?” he asked.

In Kabul, Ghofrani told IWPR, “We will get in touch with the education department in Kapisa right away, and we’ll send them the books they need tomorrow, because this creates a gap in the educational process. We have enough books here in the capital.”

Ataullah said teachers like him did not even earn enough to make ends meet.

“A teacher with 20 years experience gets paid 160 dollars a month, so he’s forced to engage in farming or some other business,” he said. “In the past few months, my salary has increased from 100 to 160 dollars, but one can’t do anything with that kind of money.”

The education ministry says it has been working hard to turn out better-qualified teachers and pay them properly.

Existing teachers were examined three times last year, and their wages increased, in some cases to 480 dollars a month.

As for new staff, the ministry says it has stopped hiring school-leavers and is turning out 1,000 graduates a year from 42 teacher-training colleges, compared with just four of them nine years ago.

Unaware of promises of teachers and textbooks made by officials in Kabul, Khaled’s main preoccupation is fighting for a place in the shade of the trees.

“I get a headache from the sun; I hate it on my face and head. And I don’t understand the lessons the teacher gives,” he said.

Maiwand Safi is an IWPR-trained reporter in Kapisa.

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