Government Launches Literacy Drive

Thousands of adults go back to school in huge government-sponsored bid to tackle widespread illiteracy.

Government Launches Literacy Drive

Thousands of adults go back to school in huge government-sponsored bid to tackle widespread illiteracy.

Seventeen adults sit on bare earth in a classroom for the entry-level literacy class at the education ministry. There's no glass in the windows and no tables or chairs.

The teacher, Fawzya, had written on the blackboard, "Every student should learn to write from 100-150. It is very difficult to teach these illiterate old students. I speak to them more softly than I would with children.” she said.

More than 80,000 Kabul adults have gone back to school in a massive drive to combat illiteracy in the Afghan capital.

Half of the adult men and four-fifths of women in the country cannot read or write, but now the education ministry and the Kabul municipality have teamed up to put tens of thousands of them on special literacy courses.

Priority is being given to people working in governmental or official offices as watchmen, guards or cleaners.

There are now some 84,000 overwhelmingly male students registered on nearly 4,000 literacy courses in Kabul. They are taught to read and write in Dari and Pashto - the two official languages of Afghanistan - and basic mathematics.

First, many of the students must conquer their embarrassment at having to go back to school. "I feel ashamed about coming to this course because my beard is white, so learning does not suit me now," said 54-year-old Kabeer who is on a course in Kabul.

However, once they overcome their reservations, many find the literacy programme extremely useful. "I am very happy about the courses. Previously, I did not know anything, but now I have learnt to write from 1 to 100," said Alemuddin, 47, a government office security guard. "I bought a watch four days ago because I can easily understand the time now. "

Not everyone, though, is as keen on taking up the offer of the classes. "I don't have any interest in education. If I were going to study, I would have studied when I was a child," said Ghanam Gul, 23, a watchman at the office of Urfan magazine in Kabul.

"I won't go to illiteracy courses because education does not have any benefit in Afghanistan. In fact, there is no difference between a literate and illiterate person in Afghanistan.

"As a watchman here my monthly salary is 1,880,000 afghanis (47 US dollars), but the salary of the editor-in-chief of the magazine, who has a master's degree in literature, is 1,900,000 afghanis."

But 25-year-old Aslam takes a more enlightened view about the value of education, “ It shouldn’t be regarded as merely a way of making money. Education brings you inside the frame of humanity."

Gul Makai has been teaching her class of 18 adults for three months. "Most of the students are older than me and many can’t tell the difference between one book page and the next. Some students cannot hold their pens properly.”

President of the Kabul municipality illiteracy department Najya Zuhal Zara says efforts have been made to ensure that the basic needs of the students are met, "We have given books to all the students and we are now providing them with pens and paper. We have also given them some chairs and desks. All the things that they need now will be provided for them very soon."

But Zara grumbles that some ministries are reluctant to allow the teachers to spend time with employees that can’t read or write, “ In some case teachers are not even given a room to teach illiterate staff.”

And there are problems at other state institutions. "Doctors at the Sehat Tefel Hospital did not allow me to teach their employees – they said, ‘Do not disturb our workers’. A doctor should not have such an attitude," said Hamida, who teaches at several hospitals.

Zara says the situation is intolerable and has urged President Karzai himself to intervene,” I have asked Mr Karzai to hold a cabinet meeting in order to resolve the problem.”

Mohammad Hakim Basharat is an independent Kabul-based reporter.

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