Schools Look to the Future

A new curriculum is leaving Soviet and Taleban-era lessons far behind.

Schools Look to the Future

A new curriculum is leaving Soviet and Taleban-era lessons far behind.

Afghanistan’s schoolchildren have a new curriculum and textbooks that no longer preach communism or jihad against the Soviets, or are restricted to the religious studies that dominated school schedules under the Taleban.

The new curriculum emphasises mathematics, science and literacy, although they still incorporate elements of daily Islamic life.

In the mujahedin era, textbooks included problems such as “The bullet of an AK-47 covers 800 metres a second. A mujahed targets a Russian soldier from 3,200 metres. How long will the bullet take to hit the forehead of the Russian?”

But now school pupils are tackling more practical – and certainly less bloodthirsty – posers such as “I have 1,500 afghanis. When I go on the Haj (pilgrimage), I will need to spend 90,000. How much do I still have to save?”

This kind of question was included to familiarise Afghans with “Islamic terms and principles”, said Abdul Nabi Wahidi of the education ministry’s translation department. Such problems are meant to use real life to make mathematics relevant, educators said.

“The modernised curriculum is intended to help Afghanistan’s children move the country ahead,” deputy education minister Zabihullah Asmati told IWPR.

The result of a year’s preparation, the curriculum was developed by a commission of 100 teachers, experts and professionals - 15 of whom were women.

“In the past the curriculum was based on political ideologies,” Asmati said. “The new syllabus has been made in accordance with the country’s religion, culture, freedoms and modern technology.

“Previous regimes increased Islamic subjects and reduced modern sciences, but we have kept a balance so as to develop education and ensure a good future for our youth. This will be a long-lasting syllabus.”

English will be taught from 4th through 12th grade, instead of starting in 7th grade as it did under previous governments. Computer studies will gradually be made mandatory, starting in Kabul where there is enough electricity and equipment. And lessons in human rights and logic are also included.

During the Communist era, there were mandatory additional classes in sociology and “patriotic defence” with a socialist slant, recalled Mohammad Gul Naimi, a 48-year-old teacher at Habiba High School in Kabul. He said that was a very bad time, “I was teaching the students things which were opposed to the national, social and Islamic values of the community.”

The textbooks have changed remarkably over time. During the Communist era, common farmers were the literary heroes of the day, and mathematics textbooks asked students to divide up the land of a rich owner equally among a number of poor families.

A second-grade Pashtu reading book from the same era presented the word topak – gun – with the sample sentence, “My uncle has a gun. He is doing jihad with the gun.”

But now the only ideology allowed into the textbooks is that of Islam.

Abdul Nabi Wahidi said that in the new curriculum “all the rules, customs, Afghan culture, human rights, religion and the rights of neighbouring countries are respected. There isn’t any word against our national interests in the new books”.

The changes have been welcomed by pupils and teachers alike. Grana Sultani, an 11th grade student, said the curriculum will make studying easier. Besides, the 15-year-old said, “I am so happy that computers are a subject in the new syllabus because I wanted to learn about them. Now that it is taught at school I will learn it fast.”

Fareeda, who has been a teacher in Kabul for the past two decades, told IWPR, “The terminology used in the past - gun, entrenchment and enemy - should not be used in the new curriculum because our country was destroyed by these things, and we don’t want more destruction.”

“The times of the gun and the enemy have passed. This is the time of peace and brotherhood.”

Habib-u-Rahman Ibrahimi is an independent journalist in Kabul.

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