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AFGHANISTAN: Hundreds of schools remain closed in south

KABUL, 6 September 2007 (IRIN) - As the new school year begins on 10 September in Afghanistan’s insurgency-hit southern provinces, there are concerns that hundreds of schools will remain closed due to insecurity.

“At least 300 schools in Helmand, Kandahar, Zabul and Uruzgan provinces will not open because of insecurity,” Siddiq Patman, deputy minister of education, told IRIN in Kabul.

For educational purposes Afghanistan is divided into colder and warmer areas. In the colder areas - mostly the central and northern provinces - schools and universities start in March and end in November, while in warmer southern provinces the nine-month academic year starts in September.

Over six million students, 38 percent of them female, have been registered at schools throughout the country, up to 40 percent of them in the warmer south, the Ministry of Education (MoE) said.

Owing to insurgency-related violence and other problems, over 350 schools were closed down in the southern provinces in 2006, officials said.

“We have succeeded in re-opening about 40 that were shut down for various reasons last year,” Patman said.

Education problems in Helmand

In the southern province of Helmand, where Taliban insurgents control several districts, the education system has been disintegrating over the past four years, according to the provincial authorities.

“In 2003 there were 224 functioning schools in Helmand. Now only 90 schools are likely to open on Monday [10 September],” said Taj Mohammad Popal, head of the provincial education department.

Since 2005, 36 schools have been burned down and 17 teachers killed in the province, MoE officials said.

Afghan officials say they cannot operate schools in areas under Taliban control, where girls have been denied the right to education and boys can only attend Islamic study classes at mosques.

Other provinces

In neighbouring Uruzgan Province up to 65 of the 171 schools have not been functioning for over two years, Mohammad Noor Khan, deputy director of education, told IRIN.

Officials in Kandahar, Zabul, Ghazni, Paktia and Khost provinces also reported the closure of dozens of schools, mainly girls’ schools, because of Taliban attacks.

Afghanistan’s progress in education over the past five years has been praised in some quarters, but over half of all Afghan children (about 3.5 million people) are out of school, the UK-based charity, Oxfam, said in October 2006.

The MoE said 14 schools were torched by insurgents in several provinces between April and May 2007.

Campaign

Attacks on schools and students, however, saw a modest decrease in June and July after officials launched a massive “school protection” campaign and encouraged communities to publicly declare support for education.

“We do not want to protect schools with guns and military,” said Patman. “We want communities to protect their schools, students and teachers.”

In an effort to ensure safe education for all Afghan children in the country, MoE officials have indirectly tried to persuade Taliban insurgents that attacks on schools are unjustifiable and must be avoided.

Through local `shuras’ (assemblies), officials say, the message has been spread that education is apolitical, non-military and impartial, and that the Taliban should desist from attacking schools, students and teachers.

“We do not deny the right of education to the children, brothers and sisters of them [Taliban], and the Taliban should do likewise,” Haji Mullah Agha, a tribal elder in Helmand Province, told IRIN.

In January, a Taliban spokesman reportedly said the rebels would spend US$1 million to establish their own Islamic schools in southern Afghanistan. Nine months on, however, there are no functioning Taliban schools in the impoverished country, officials say.

Torn by decades of war, Afghanistan has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world with over 90 percent of women and 60 percent of men considered illiterate, according to the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

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Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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