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Afghanistan: Ghor's Education System Near Collapse

Most schools are closed, but teachers still receive their salaries.
By Hassan Hakimi
  • Afghan students from the Chagcharan girls school. (Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
    Afghan students from the Chagcharan girls school. (Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Mohammad was in the seventh grade of the Shaheed Abdul Haq high school when it shut down two years ago. He has been herding sheep ever since.

Mohammad cannot read or write, but says that this is not unusual among his peers.

“Here, students graduate from high school and they are still completely illiterate,” he continued. “Most of the young people either join the police or the army or go to Iran to find work.”

Mohammad may even get a graduation certificate, regardless of whether he ever returns to the school. Around 400 students were still enrolled at his school, 25 kilometres from Firoz Kooh city, with a staff of nine teachers and three assistants.

“The teachers get their salary without coming to school and teaching, and students pass without going to school and studying,” he said.

An investigation by IWPR has revealed that the overwhelming majority of schools in the central Ghor province remain closed, although the education department has continued to pay salaries to absentee staff.  Many children go through the system from grade to grade without attending school or passing any tests.

IWPR has previously highlighted the problem of so-called “ghost” schools in the lawless province. Little has been done to address this ongoing issue.

(See also Afghanistan: The Ghost Teachers of Ghor).

In some schools that are still operational, students said that standards were so low that they could graduate from class simply by attending school for a day or two each month.

Nasibullah, 16, is in the eighth grade at Quts high school, 12 kilometers north of Firoz Kooh.

He attends school for two days a month and cannot read or write.

Smiling, he said, “Go and ask our teachers how many days a month they come to school, and how many of them can’t write and read like me.”

His father Mohammad Sarwar, who works in the department of public health, said that Nasibullah was better off helping out at home than going to a school where he would learn nothing.

“When a teacher is illiterate, the officials have no control over the teachers, the teacher is present for one month a year, there are no books, discipline and administration, where and why should I send my son? Instead of sending him to school, I have sent him to work on the farm.”

This is common practice amongst parents in Ghor. Gul Ahmad Osmani, head of the provincial department of labour, social affairs, martyrs and disabled, estimated that 60 per cent of the province’s children were working instead of going to school.

“I have shared the problem of children being deprived of their right to education with Ghor’s education department, but no action has yet been taken,” he said.

Ghor provincial council member Mohammad Hasham Faizi said that the condition of education in the province was deeply concerning.

“Schools in Ghor are a good source of income for some people because principals and teachers of schools in the districts don’t attend for months on end but still get their salaries,” he said, adding that the danger was that “our next generation will be illiterate”.

“Sixty per cent of schools in this province have been shut, especially during the last two years. But the students still pass from one grade to the other without attending school,” Faizi continued.

Others put the figure still higher.

“Seventy per cent of the children of Ghor are deprived of the chance to go to school,” said Khudayar Waqif, head of Ghor’s civil society organisations. “Seventy per cent of schools, especially over the last two years, have been open in name alone.

“Students and teachers don’t attend and their results are falsely reported every year,” he continued. “Due to the lack of security and scarcity of staff, no attention is paid to education. All the schools in Chahar Sada, Pasaband, Du Lainah and Sharak are closed and most schools in Taywaraha, Saghar, Tulak and Dawlatyar districts.”

Fazi noted that some purpose-built schools had simply never been inaugurated.

“Khwaja Ala high school, a two-storey building built two years ago, has not been used by even a single student,” he added.

Other schools had been appropriated for use by state security forces. One girls’ school in the centre of Pasaband district had been closed for several years and was now used as an Afghan National Army base.

Some institutions in more remote areas had been taken over by the Taleban to be used as camps for their fighters.

Abdul Majid, who lives in the village of Khafak in Charsada district, said that local Taleban had been cmaped out in their school for the last two years. He, like other local students, was working instead.

Local officials confirm that teachers continue to draw salaries without going to school.

Amir Jan Naseri, the head of Ghor’s national directorate of security (NDS), said that his department had sent the governor’s office a list of 182 schools, asking for these institutions to be investigated and the teachers’ salaries stopped.

“We [will ]work with the local administration to open the closed schools,” he said.

Juma Khan Hamdard, Ghor NDS deputy head, added, “A month ago I was in Pasaband district. [I was told that] 44 schools have been closed for the last two years. No students go to school. The teachers’ salaries are claimed but wasted by the authorities of Ghor’s education department, by teachers and various other people.”

Mohammad Sadiq lives in Ghor city and is employed as a teacher at the Badqul secondary school in Char Sada district. He said that he still received his monthly salary even though he had not been to work for several years.

“All the teachers in this district are the same, they are teachers and get a salary, but don’t go to schools. When I saw all teachers were like that, I followed them too,” he said.

Another teacher, who asked not to be identified, said that he was supposed to be teaching at a high school in Dawlatyar district. He never attended, but was marked present.

“Some teachers are in Iran and some are even teachers in other provinces but still get paid their salary in Ghor,” he said.

IWPR has seen documentary evidence of teachers employed in shuttered schools continuing to draw their salaries.

One document from Ghor’s audit department, dated July 13, 2016, read,  “Some schools in central and remote areas of Ghor province which were under the control of the Taleban were not monitored by the supervision team of Ghor’s education department in [the last Islamic year] 1394 and were inactive, and these schools had no educational classes and services; however, the teachers were paid their monthly salaries.

The report noted that “money from the salaries of the teachers was also embezzled by the officials of the Ghor’s education department. The same process continued in [the current Islamic year] 1395 as well”.

IWPR has seen documentary evidence of teachers employed in shuttered schools continuing to draw their salaries.

One document from Ghor’s audit department, dated July 13, 2016, read,  “Some schools in central and remote areas of Ghor province which were under the control of the Taleban were not monitored by the supervision team of Ghor’s education department in [the last Islamic year] 1394 and were inactive, and these schools had no educational classes and services; however, the teachers were paid their monthly salaries.

The report noted that “money from the salaries of the teachers was also embezzled by the officials of the Ghor’s education department. The same process continued in [the current Islamic year] 1395 as well”.

EDUCATION GOING BACKWARDS

The situation for women and girls in Ghor is even worse.

Insurgents have repeatedly kidnapped female teachers in  the province, and although many girls were registered as in education the reality was very different.

“Eighty per cent of the schools in Ghor don’t have even a single female teacher, but 40 per cent of the students registered in the education department are female,” said Masooma Anwari, head of Ghor’s department of women’s affairs.

This meant that as girls got older, families were even more reluctant to send them to school to be taught by a male teacher.

Not a single female student in any of the seven districts of Ghor had taken the university entrance exam, she continued, which showed the extent of the problem.

Sibghatullah Akbari, head of Ghor’s education department, agreed.

 “Apart from Lal and Sar Jangal districts, Firoz Koh city and some other areas, girls are prevented from going to schools after the sixth grade due to these traditions,” he added. “Over the last 15 years [since the fall of the Taleban], we have only been able to open two girls’ schools in the whole of Pasaband district.”

Abdul Hamid Natiqi, another provincial council member, said the public had to bear some responsibility for this situation due to their neglect of girls’ education.

“Some don’t let their daughters go to schools due to some unfortunate traditions, especially after the sixth grade. Ninety per cent of girls in Pasaban, Charsada, Dawlina, Shahrak and most girls in Firoz Kooh, and half in Taywarah and Tawalk districts don’t go to school and their schools are closed - but teachers’ salaries are given to officials, powerbrokers, and even the Taleban.”

Ghor government spokesman Abdul Hai Khatibi said that the vast majority of girls outside the main population centres were deprived of access to education.

He added that 58 schools had been closed this year, but the salaries of the teachers and the principals were still being paid.

“The reasons why children are deprived of the chance to go to school are insecurity, lack of interest or support of education, poverty, lack of buildings for students and lack of teachers and books,” he said.

Akbari agreed that it was the poor security situation as well as a scarcity of resources that was robbing many children of their education. In the last three years, he added, 10,000 students had dropped out of school.

“Of the schools, 636 schools don’t have buildings, not even tents or proper flooring, and 15 schools have been permanently closed. There are no textbooks for children in grades seven to 12. The province needs an extra 2,500 teachers. If there is no proper shelter, no security, no teachers, books or even drinking water then children will be deprived of their chance to go to school.”

Asked why teachers employed at closed schools could not be transferred to other institutions, Akbari said that it was difficult to send staff from one district to the other in the absence of a decent trampsort sytem and when roads could be dangerous.

He said that his reports to Kabul had gone unheeded.

“We have sent documents regarding the current problems in Ghor’s education system to the ministry of education, but the ministry has not done anything to solve the problems.”

IWPR has seen a letter dated September 5, 2016 in which the provincial education department informed the ministry of the problems in the provincial system.

However, officials in Kabul said that they were unaware of the dire situation in Ghor.

Education ministry spokesman Mujib Mehrdad told IWPR, “This is the first time that I have heard that 70 per cent of children in Ghor have been deprived of an education.”

He explained that teachers were allowed to draw their salaries for six months in areas with poor security where schools had been shut down. However, it was a criminal offence for teachers in more secure areas to be paid without going to work.

Mehrdad added that the ministry would send a delegation to Ghor to punish offenders.

This report was produced under IWPR’s Promoting Human Rights and Good Governance in Afghanistan initiativefunded by the European Union Delegation to Afghanistan.

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