Opening a Window of Knowledge at a Kabul Elementary School
March 19, 2014
- School enrollment for both girls and boys has increased significantly in an elementary school in Kabul city, thanks to the actions of the school shura, or council.
- The positive enrollment trend and the council’s role reflect the development taking place all over Afghanistan, as a result of the Ministry of Education’s Education Quality Improvement Program.
- The program, supported by the World Bank and ARTF, seeks to increase access to quality basic education, especially for girls, through school grants and teacher training.
KABUL, Afghanistan - At Daricha-e-Noor or ‘Window of Knowledge’ School, there are no lights, fans, desks, chairs, books, a library, or much else needed to teach 1,627 children, but they do have a group determined to help them.
The elementary school in Qargha locality of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, recently organized a shura, a council of 15 neighborhood elders, parents, teachers, mosque leaders, and students. The council was formally created under the Ministry of Education’s Education Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP), with support from the World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), the council is now formulating a plan to improve and expand their school with EQUIP funding.
Already, the school shura has recruited 75 new students in just three months. Among these children is Rahnoor, 10, whose family recently fled violence in Wardak province where her school was burned to the ground. “I couldn’t do my last exams because the Taliban destroyed my school,” says Rahnoor. “They said it was shameful for daughters to go to school, but I love school. I love to learn everything. I had so many friends.”
EQUIP’s objective is to increase access to quality basic education, especially for girls, through school grants and teacher training with support from communities and private providers.
Civil war and subsequent Taliban rule in the 1990s destroyed Afghanistan’s education system, and girls were forbidden to attend school. Today, about 50% of schools do not have proper buildings, and about half of teachers have not graduated from Grade 12. However, girls’ enrollment has increased to 3 million from less than 200,000 in 2002, while boys’ attendance jumped to about 4.5 million from less than one million.
To promote social awareness and mobilization, an important first step for EQUIP is the organization of shuras, which manage their schools based on local priorities.
Shura increases student enrollment
At Daricha-e-Noor school, Mohammad Bashir joined the shura because his 10-year-old daughter attends Grade 5 there. “We came together in a shura here because we have passed three decades of war and education is all we want now,” says Bashir.
“If our people can be educated, our country will have peace, not guns or weapons.”
Mullah Mohammad Ismail, a local mosque leader, agrees with Bashir. “I joined this shura because it is important for this country that our new generation be educated. Our Prophet says that both men and women must have an education,” says Ismail.
Local shopkeeper Mehrab Shah, 65, says he has always done everything in his power to encourage children to attend school. “I very much regret that I can’t read or write, that I couldn’t attend school,” says Shah, “and this is why I am joining the shura.”
There should be no difference between boys and girls. I am not afraid. I am happy to come to school. I want to be an engineer.
In fact, it was Shah who always pushed Bashir, 38, to excel at his studies years ago. “I walked three kilometers to school years ago and if any student went by (Shah’s) shop, he would offer us water and remind us to study all the time, not play games, so we could be educated,” says Bashir.
Together on the shura now, they are part of a group of nine men and six women who started in early 2013 to persuade parents in the community to send their children to school. Principal Yana Khurram says 75 more students have enrolled since March.
Girls learn to read and write
Rahnoor is a new recruit, as is her classmate Roqia Ali, 11. Roqia’s parents were worried about her safety and had her attend classes at a madrassa next to their home. “But the shura told my parents about this school, and they want me to be educated,” says Roqia. “My mother can’t read or write. One time when we were trying to find a tailor’s shop, I had to find the sign for her.”
Now, Roqia has plenty of friends at her new school and she is learning not only to read, but also to write. “We didn’t write anything at the madrassa, and I am learning English too, which is very difficult,” says the little girl, who wants to be a doctor some day.
Classmate Lida Omari, 11, said her parents worried “the situation is not good for girls to go to school, until the (shura) elders persuaded them to send me here. I am enjoying my studies and am happy that I can be an educated person,” says Lida.
Another new recruit, Masouda Nabi, 12, says, “There should be no difference between boys and girls. I am not afraid. I am happy to come to school. I want to be an engineer.”
Student numbers are increasing, and the shura has also submitted its school improvement plan to EQUIP officials, says principal Khurram. The council wants to install electricity for lights and fans, fix toilets, purchase desks and chairs, buy books and create a library, order computers and science equipment, and construct a school playground.
At the moment, students sit on floor mats in bare concrete rooms. But still, they keep coming, says Khurram. “We believe in change. Once we lived in the Stone Age, then under the feudal system but now we want to join others in this world. We must learn.”
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