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Teachers Make Themselves Heard

Demands for higher pay and improved working conditions prompt strikes at schools in Kabul and Farah province.
By Mohammad Jawad

Teachers complaining that their salaries are too low and class sizes too large have staged strike action that has temporarily shut down schools in several provinces as they demand better conditions.

“I earn 3,000 afghanis [about 60 US dollars] a month, and I have 11 dependents,” said one teacher at the Habibia High School in Kabul, who refused to give his name for fear he could be punished. “I also have a sick person in my family. How am I supposed to live?”

According to official statistics, Afghanistan has 122,000 teachers recognised by the ministry of education, earning between 40 and 100 dollars a month. While their pay is roughly equivalent to that of other government employees, teachers say there is no comparison in workload or earning potential.

“Teachers work with 80 to 150 students every day,” said Mohammad Satar, a teacher in one of Kabul’s schools. “We have to be there all the time. It’s not like other government employees, who just sign in every morning and then go off to do other jobs. We have no other source of income.”

This spring, 2,000 teachers in the southwestern province of Farah went out on strike for nine days. Abdul Jabar Khatibzadah, head of the Farah Teachers’ Union, said that the staff were fully justified in orchestrating the strike, which affected some 70,000 students.

“If someone wants to defend his rights, he will have to shout,” said Khatibzadah. “If a baby doesn’t cry, a mother won’t give him her breast. If the teachers just sit quietly, no one will help them.”

Meanwhile, teachers at Habibia High School in Kabul staged a one-day walkout.

“We went back to work only after the school director promised that he would speak with the minister of education,” said a Kabul teacher. “But he has not done this. He’s only been in the job for one year and he doesn’t want to compromise his position.”

Education Minister Noor Mohammad Qarqin said he was unaware of the walkout in Kabul, but acknowledged that teachers had gone on strike in Farah province.

"The ministry of education sent a panel to Farah Province to discuss the matter with them. The teachers understood that the ministry has its own problems and therefore could not meet all of their demands," he said. “It is not just teachers who have low salaries – all government employees are in the same situation.”

But according to Khatibzadah, the government did move to address some of their issues.

"The government accepted some of the teachers’ demands, like distribution of housing plots to teachers, transfer of the governor and the security chief, and the construction of a kindergarten and a nursery for infants,” he said. “These concessions ended the nine-day strike.”

The teachers in Farah are prepared to strike again if the government does not keep its promises. "If our major demands such as salary rises are not met, and if the promises made are not implemented, it is our natural right to go on strike again," said Khatibzadah.

Mohammad Jawad Sharifzadah is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.

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