In Afghanistan, education must take precedence over politics | Education

Afghanistan faces a critical time when international assistance is urgently needed to prevent the collapse of its education system. Advances in education have become a symbol of Afghanistan’s reconstruction achievements over the past 20 years, with over 9 million children enrolled in school.

However, according to UNICEF, there are currently over 4 million out-of-school children, more than half of whom are girls. The complex economic and humanitarian crisis in the country is expected to worsen over the coming year and threatens to reverse the progress of the previous two decades. Hundreds of thousands of teachers have gone unpaid for nearly six months, with teachers in Herat province protesting to demand that the Taliban pay their salaries.

This rapidly deteriorating situation threatens to trigger one of the world’s worst educational emergencies. UNHCR has warned that nearly 23 million people suffer from extreme levels of hunger, nine million of whom are at risk of famine. With Afghan livelihoods threatened, many Afghan families will inevitably be forced to choose survival rather than further education. There is a real risk that the quantity and quality of education will drop sharply, with madrassa reappearing as the main form of education in Afghanistan and a lost generation of Afghan children being denied educational opportunities.

To alleviate the crisis, education must take priority over politics. The sanctity of education is a deeply rooted social value, partly rooted in the centrality of education in Islam. “Read, in the name of your Lord”, is the first verse of the Quran that was revealed to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh).

With the Taliban in power, it is undeniable that respecting the right to education is ultimately the group’s responsibility. However, given the scale of the challenge, international support is urgently needed. The following messages should be heard by Afghan and international actors as they work together to resolve the education crisis.

First, while some erratic statements by the Taliban about girls’ education or the unsuitability of school structures for gender segregation have given the impression that her arrival has resulted in the education crisis, the current situation is rooted in deep and long-standing structural challenges. that pre-date the Taliban. These systemic weaknesses include, but are not limited to, the low quality of education, cultural restrictions on girls’ access to education, the weak capacity of the Afghan government and its low dependence on the government. assistance, and difficulties in inducing trained teachers to relocate to rural and remote areas.

Second, these pre-existing conditions limit what the Taliban could realistically accomplish in a short period of time. The full return of girls to school is not only a major demand of the international community but a universal right and the engine of the country’s development. The international community is right to fear that the Taliban would restrict the educational freedom of women and girls, as it did when it ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. However, afterwards Upon returning to power, the Taliban questioned these fears, pointing out that girls from Kunduz, Balkh and Sar-e-Pul provinces have returned to school.

The divergent paths of access to education in northern and southern Afghanistan have been cause for concern, with many observers questioning why girls cannot attend secondary schools in Kandahar, Helmand and the provinces. neighbors. Yet the same observers would do well to recognize the complex cultural issues that shape the environment for education access and equity in Afghanistan. For example, even before the Taliban takeover, the high degree of cultural variation in Afghanistan hampered government efforts to ensure girls’ education in the more conservative southern provinces. The Taliban government will also face these obstacles, but there is room for dialogue and maneuver to ensure positive development results for Afghan boys and girls.

Third, and most importantly, the Afghan education system needs massive foreign aid to stay afloat. There are approximately 220,000 teachers in the Afghan public education system. With such a large payroll, the education ministry represents a huge percentage of the government budget in Afghanistan. The fact that Afghan teachers have not received their salaries for almost six months is the biggest obstacle to resuming the normal educational process.

As the banking crisis in Afghanistan complicates the external financing of education budgets, international donors and NGOs could directly support Afghan schools by covering salary costs, purchasing supplies and investing in better facilities and infrastructure. and more secure. With female staff making up about a third of Afghanistan’s teaching staff, supporting their salaries would be a more constructive and direct way for Western donors to support Afghan women here and now than repeating the same lines about girls’ education and education. play with their public families.

Fourth, it is just as important to focus on the quality of education in Afghanistan as it is to expand education. The major disruption in teacher development and the shortage of teachers is forcing the school system to rapidly increase its capacity and implement a new national in-service training plan. This project could be better supervised by the United Nations with the support of leading regional organizations with expertise in educational development, such as Education Above All, based in Doha.

There are indications that the Taliban is open to constructive engagement in quality education and fears that they are pursuing hasty, haphazard and ideological curriculum reform have proven to be unfounded. Taliban officials cite the resumption of a UNICEF textbook delivery program initiated under the previous regime as a sign of continued international education policy and cooperation.

Finally, education in Afghanistan has suffered directly from the attacks during two decades of war. As a result of airstrikes, shelling and the use of improvised explosive devices, teachers and students were injured or killed and schools were damaged. For example, 12 schools in an area of ​​Baghlan province were occupied or used for military purposes in 2016 and during the US airstrikes on Kunduz in 2017, schools were also destroyed.

Although we know that the conflict has had an impact on the Afghan education system, no complete data is available on how many schools in Afghanistan have been damaged as a result. Therefore, civil society and non-governmental organizations and international agencies must have access to this information in order to assess the scale of the challenges and to design strategies to rebuild education.

I recently met with representatives of the Taliban government, ministers of the former government, diplomats from donor countries and representatives of NGOs to discuss the challenges facing the education sector in Afghanistan. Unlike sectors such as banking or justice where a significant number of professionals have fled Afghanistan since August, teachers have largely remained in the country.

The Taliban expressed their willingness to engage with the international community on full access to education and hailed efforts to verify and monitor progress made to educate women and girls at all levels. In line with the Humanitarian Plus approach, in a recent editorial I argued that education and health are two areas in which Western aid agencies can open channels of communication and coordination with the Taliban without the need formal recognition.

A strategic entry point for such educational cooperation is the academic calendar in Afghanistan. As winter approaches, many schools in northern and eastern Afghanistan will close until March 2022. This quarterly programming provides an opportunity to focus educational assistance on current schools. open. Such a phased approach is a way of thinking more strategically by disaggregating the education crisis in Afghanistan by province, location, and sub-sector, which can allow for a focused response and make a major undertaking less overwhelming.

The recent warning from aid agencies that one million Afghan children could die this winter makes the integration of education aid into the Humanitarian Plus approach more urgent. Far from being peripheral to a humanitarian response, education is vital for integrated responses that capitalize on the capacity of schools to serve as focal points for the distribution of emergency aid, particularly through school meals, child protection and emergency preparedness.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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