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Girls’ education in Afghan schools discussed

KARACHI: “More and more girls are being educated in Afghanistan despite the challenges,” said Karam Ali of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in Afghanistan, on the second day of an international conference ‘In search of relevance and sustainability of educational change’ organised by Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED) in collaboration with United Nation Children’s Fund and Higher Education Commission, on Friday.

While presenting his paper on ‘Whole school improvement in Afghanistan: an innovative approach to transform the conventional learner to a robust learner’, Mr Ali showed how slowly, but surely, the education system in Afghanistan was improving through interactive approaches to learning. The paper focused on a three-year case study of six schools selected to receive significant attention and support due to their central location vis-à-vis other 216 schools in the area. The schools were in Badakhshan, Baghlan and Bamyan provinces.

“In Afghanistan, education in general and girls’ education in particular has faced significant obstacles. During the Taliban regime, gross enrolment for girls and boys fell from 32 per cent to 6.4 per cent,” he said. “According to a current review of the education sector, as a result of the ‘welcome back to school campaign’, which began in late 2001, enrolment increased from 0.9 million children in 2002 to more than 7.5 million, with almost three million girls in 2012.”

Mr Ali said that the number of schools has also increased from 3,400 in 2001 to 13,000 in 2011, out of which 2,077 are girls’ schools while 4,164 are boys’ schools. “The participation levels are also increasing and the ministry of education hopes to achieve its goal of 60 per cent girls’ attendance by 2014,” he said.

Explaining the school improvement programme, the educationist said that the AKF aimed for four things: to have good leadership and management, effective teaching and learning, community engagement and bringing about an improvement in facilities and physical environment.

Talking about the difficulties faced by the foundation, Mr Ali said, “While trying to provide them good leadership and management, we faced several barriers such as lack of qualified heads, nepotism and transfers, and replacements carried out without any justification. The AKF intervened to redefine principals’ roles and introduce leadership and management courses which brought about several positive changes in that department.”

About affective teaching and learning in those schools, he said that under-qualified teachers were the cause of students’ rote learning. The teachers also couldn’t understand the students’ issues, while another problem was there were no female teachers.

“We introduced in-house mentoring and established a teachers’ learning circle while encouraging girls to go to teachers’ training centres,” said Mr Ali. “Even though we are still making progress, teaching and learning has improved considerably.”

The next step, said Mr Ali, was changing the community’s perception and attitude towards education. “Many thought that education was un-Islamic and were worried about the girls’ safety and reputation if they attended school. There was also a distrust of government institutions,” he said. “However, with time things are improving. The outcome has been so good that the community elders are now coming together to discuss girls’ education. It is no longer a taboo subject.”

The final step in finishing the model schools was equipping them with improved facilities and a good physical environment.

The AKF focused on the education of girls for whole school improvement, said Mr Ali. “For that we tried to change the mindset of the entire community through awareness. Supporting female teachers has worked out in favour of girls’ education. When people saw more female teachers in schools they began sending their daughters to study,” he said.

At present, said the educationist, there were 48 per cent girls and 52 per cent boys in the model schools. Even though 200 of the 450 districts in Afghanistan don’t have any girls in their schools, things are improving very quickly, he added.

Other highlights of the day’s proceedings included the addresses by director of Karachi AKU examination board, Dr Thomas Christie, and senior education programme officer of AKF Geneva, Dr Joshua Muskin. Around 48 papers were presented during the day. The conference concludes on Saturday.