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

Maths Students Shine Abroad

Four Afghan students win top prizes in international competition and change some minds in the process.
By Mohammad Jawad

Four young Afghan students did more than merely stun their competitors when they came away with some of the top prizes at an international mathematics competition held recently in Almaty, Kazakhstan. They also changed how students from 22 other countries perceive Afghanistan.


Ahmad Mustafa Naseri and Mustafa Naseri, both 17 (and unrelated), students at the Turkish-run Afghan-Turk School in Kabul, won gold medals while Omid Sadiqyar and Mohammad Rafi Firoz, also 17 and students at a similar school in the northern Shiberghan province, were awarded silver medals following a day-long algebra competition in May.


Ahmad Mustafa said that while he was proud of his gold medal, he was saddened to discover that students from other countries thought of Afghanistan only as the home of terrorism, drugs production and internecine conflict.


“One competitor from Australia told me, ‘I was very surprised that Afghans were taking part in this competition – we always hear that Afghanistan is a major drug producer and a country for terrorists who are always fighting one another,’ " said Ahmad Mustafa.


But now, Ahmad Mustafa said, the Australian promised to return home and talk of the talented and brave Afghans he had met.


Mustafa Naseri smiled as he recalled the moment he heard he had won gold.


“Even though the other participants were happy that there were Afghan students in the competition, they never thought that we would get such positions. They were all left wondering after the results were announced and the Afghans were awarded two gold and two silver medals,” he said.


Maths teacher Hilmi Engoren, who started teaching at the high school two years ago and accompanied the students to Kazakhstan, praised the boys, adding, “Afghan students are talented – I am sure that if the way is paved for them, they will be successful in any field.”


The Afghan-Turk schools, supported by a Turkish non-governmental organisation, were first established in 1995 but were quickly attacked by the then-ruling Taleban regime, which accused them of spreading Turkish propaganda.


Today, there are 35 teachers, including 18 from Turkey, for the 500 students at the Kabul school. According to Abdul Fatah Sabar, deputy director at the school, the teaching system is more concentrated than others in the country, with students attending classes 46 hours a week, compared with the 36 hours normal at Afghan schools.


The schools only accept male students. “These schools were established during the Taleban regime and girls were not allowed to go to school at that time,” said Sabar. “So only boys are still educated here.”


Mustafa’s father, Abdul Wasay Naseri, is full of praise for his son’s school. “If my son didn’t go to the Afghan-Turk School, his talents would be wasted like those of thousands of other Afghan youths,” he said.


Mohammad Sediq Patman, a deputy education minister, said that if Afghanistan had the means to educate its children, "I am sure they would amaze the world in different fields.


“Unfortunately we don’t have enough schools or teachers and we are not on top of things in the regions; we can’t dismiss any teachers in the provinces. Most of the teachers who were appointed during the war era [in the Nineties] don’t have diplomas."


Winning the math award was almost too much for Mustafa Naseri. “When I was given the gold medal, my heart began beating so fast I thought I had a heart disease,” he said.


Mohammad Jawad Sharifzada is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.


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