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FEATURE STORY

Afghan Girls Strive for a Bright Future at Refurbished High School

May 28, 2014

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • School enrollment has increased significantly over the last decade in Afghanistan. A girls’ high school in the Balkh province, which has received support for refurbishment and training of school council members, reflects this trend, attracting new enrollments every few months.
  • The school council, or shura, has been instrumental in gaining community support and increasing school enrollment, with some 228 councils operating in the Balkh province.
  • The high school is one of many in the Ministry of Education’s Education Quality Improvement Program, supported by the World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund.

MAZAR-E-SHARIF, Balkh Province - Sometimes, the taller girls at Turabi Girls’ High School amuse other students by trying to simultaneously touch both walls in their tiny old classrooms. It’s a game that gets everyone laughing, especially in summer when the rooms are so stifling that studying is almost impossible.

Those oppressive afternoons are fewer now that the school has 11 more classrooms, including an airy new science laboratory, in a big blue building across the compound. Behind a brick boundary wall in the heart of Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province, the school has recently doubled in size with support from the Ministry of Education’s Education Quality Improvement Program (EQUIP). EQUIP receives financial support from the World Bank and Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).

EQUIP aims to increase access to education, particularly for girls, through school grants and teacher training. It’s now estimated girls’ enrollment has increased to 3.4 million from less than 200,000 in 2002, and boys’ attendance has grown to about 5.3 million from less than one million.

“All the girls want to be in the new building now,” says teacher Fawzia Faizi, 25. “In these old rooms, it can be very hot, and when it rains, the water comes through the roof and they get scared, but still they want to study so we need to keep using both these places.”

Civil war and subsequent Taliban rule in the 1990s largely destroyed Afghanistan’s education system and girls were not allowed to attend school. Today, about 50 percent of the country’s schools do not have proper buildings, and more than half of teachers have not graduated from Grade 12.

Community support for school

At Turabi Girls’ High School, about 2,000 students now attend grades 7 to 12 in two half-day shifts, and more are arriving every few months, says Principal Shakila Noori. “People are hearing this is a good, safe place for their daughters to study,” says Noori. “We  want people to think of this as their home. Other schools may have burned, but not here. The community is fully supporting us.”

The enrollment increase at Turabi Girls’ High School is due, in large part, to the work of the school shura, says Noori. A council or shura of local elders, teachers, parents, and students regularly meets to discuss any challenges facing the school. Part of EQUIP’s mandate is to assist with the creation and training of school shuras. Now approximately 228 operate in Balkh province, say program officials.

A retired bank worker, Mohammad Ali, 65, joined the Turabi shura after his daughter started teaching at the school. “Now, we all go out in the community and to the mosques to tell everybody to bring their boys and girls here. If they don’t, we encourage them until they do,” Ali says with a grin.

Aqela Nawabi, 15, is one of two students on the shura. She says members of the group recently “sat a few times” with one family who wouldn’t give permission to their daughter to attend school because they were worried about her security.

“But after some time, they agreed and now she is here in Class 11,” says Aqela.

Open Quotes

This school has made the future very bright for us. Before we were studying under the trees…but now we have a roof over our heads, and in our new building, there are fans, so this is very good. Close Quotes

Zahra Bahar
Student, Turabi Girls’ High School

School council tackles challenges

It was also the shura that applied for the construction of the new school building which opened three years ago, and requested EQUIP to supply funds for a small library, books and the science laboratory equipped with skeletons. “Actually, we are doing a very good job,” says Ali. “Already, we need even more space.”

Education is clearly essential to the girls in the white headscarves who still sit shoulder to shoulder in many classrooms, says student Zahra Bahar, 16. “This school has made the future very bright for us. Before we were studying under the trees, in the shade beside the wall, or in tents, but now we have a roof over our heads, and in our new building, there are fans, so this is very good,” says Zahra, a Class 10 student who wants to be a judge or lawyer some day.

Sewita Asalzada, 18, plans to be an engineer so she can “rebuild my country, and create even more beautiful schools.”

“Afghanistan has been a destroyed place because there are some people who wanted to defeat us. But we won’t admit defeat. We will take our place in the future,” says Sewita, a Class 11 student. For her own family, she envisions a modern home with a swimming pool in the garden.

“Life should be a pleasing experience, like these murals on our walls,” adds Sewita, pointing at a nearby school artist putting the finishing touches on a painting of a former Afghan king. In the new building, other colorful murals depict famous poets or the periodic tables.

Teacher Palwasha Faizudin agrees the school has made much progress, but a few problems still exist, such as the lack of books that would better explain how to teach class material to the upper grades. 

“But this is why I am part of the shura,” says fellow teacher, Faizi. “We are working on solving all these problems. Just in the last few months, we have started a school development plan. There is still much to do, but already we have come so far.”