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

Salary Scandal Shuts Schools

Young Aghans are eager to learn in spite of a book and schoolroom shortage – but now their unpaid teachers are leaving the profession.
By Rahimullah Samandar

Hundreds of schools in rural Afghanistan that re-opened in triumph after the fall of the Taleban have been closed again because their teachers haven’t been paid.


The end of the student militia’s regime was celebrated by more than 42,000 pupils - male and female - who went back to school in the mountainous province of Ghor, 400 km west of Kabul, in March.


Now 173 of the region’s schools are empty again - closed down after their impoverished teachers left to take other jobs to pay their mounting bills.


It is another blow to the recovery plans of a country where the United Nations estimates that just one in three people can read and write.


Molawi Mohammad Sakhi Subooryar, deputy director of education of Ghor province, told IWPR that salaries have not been paid for more than a year, despite repeated requests.


The United Nations Development Programme provides each teacher with a wage of around 40 US dollars a month, but it would appear that the money has been swallowed up by Afghanistan’s arcane banking system.


“I think the central bank has given a cheque to the Herat branch, which has not paid the money. We have now asked the central bank to pay these salaries directly from Kabul,” said finance ministry deputy Ghulam Nabi Farahi.


Ghor is not the only province to be affected by the apparent mix-up. Teachers from Badghis, Faryab, Sar-e-pul and Jozjan are also complaining about unpaid wages.


However, many educators are battling on regardless. In Herat, the principal of one high school told IWPR, “In Afghanistan no one has paid any attention to the teachers, many of whom continue to work even though they are starving.


“The students do not have any books, or any rooms to study in. These problems must be addressed.”


The shortage of teaching materials is most acute in Afghanistan’s north and north-east provinces. The majority of schools were destroyed in extensive fighting and those that are still standing have not yet received the new national syllabus.


Nabi Khan, a teacher in Hazrat Omar high school in Pul-e-Khumri city of Baghlan province, said, "It’s almost half way through the educational year, and we haven’t got any books yet. The world is yelling that ‘we have helped this and that’, but where has that money been spent?


“If (the childrens’ charity) Unicef had used the money it spent on its ‘Back to School’ campaign on rebuilding the rooms and providing study materials all the problems would have been solved.”


Unicef says its campaign, which cost around 37 million dollars, did not prioritise the reconstruction of the country’s schoolrooms, concentrating instead on both encouraging children to return to classes and delivering more than 7,000 tonnes of learning materials.


Asako Saegusa, Unicef’s head of communications, said the scheme, which involved sending convoys of vehicles to towns and villages around the country, had been “very efficient”.


Education ministry deputy Mohammad Moeen Marastyal accepts that there are problems in rural areas and told IWPR that they are looking at practical solutions such as free healthcare and cheap food for the teachers.


“We know about the difficulties in Ghor province. We have contacted the finance ministry and the problem will be solved soon,” he said.


“We are thinking of paying them with food, and when we get some more aid we will reopen the education ministry's health clinic so that the teachers are given free medical care. We also thought of launching a cooperative for them so that they can buy cheap goods in the bazaar.”


Schools are also the victim of their own success. Since the beginning of the year, pupil numbers have almost doubled to three and 1.3 million in primary schools and secondary schools respectively – and the education ministry predicts that another 1.5 million students want to enrol.


“We can’t help them in the present conditions. If Afghanistan’s foreign friends don’t help us many more schools may be closed down,” said Marastyal.


He also believes that overseas welfare bodies don’t seem to have their priorities right. “Some of the organisations want to help us to set up an Internet service for the students in Afghanistan, or want to spend their aid publicising the education system.


“We give the first priority to books and schoolrooms, not to the Internet. Spreading the word is no longer a priority because all Afghans now understand the importance of education and are happy to send their sons and daughters to school.”


Rahimullah Samandar is a reporter from Pol-e-Khomri in northern Afghanistan.