Despite Conflict and COVID-19, Children Still Dream to Continue Their Education in Afghanistan

Children study in a Community Based Education class in Miirwais
Meena, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Credit: Fazel/UNICEF

By Guy Dinmore
LONDON, Nov 12 2020 (IPS)

As if four decades of war were not enough, then came the
pandemic.

For each of the past five years, Afghanistan has been identified
by the United Nations as the world’s deadliest country for
children and, despite progress made in peace talks between the
government and the Taliban, child and youth casualties from the
ongoing conflict continue to mount in 2020.

Education itself has come under fire, with hundreds of attacks
on schools and teachers. A 2018 joint report by the Afghanistan
Ministry of Education and UNICEF, estimated that as many as 3.7
million children in Afghanistan were out of school, 60 per cent of
them girls.

Against this backdrop, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the
global fund launched at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit to
deliver quality education for vulnerable children and youth in
countries affected by armed conflicts, forced displacement,
climate-induced disasters and protracted crises – selected
Afghanistan as one of the first countries to roll out a Multi-Year
Resilience Programme (MYRP). The in-country Steering Committee
formed to oversee implementation of the programme appointed
management of the MYRP to UNICEF as a grantee.

Sarthak Pal, ECW project coordinator for UNICEF in Kabul, says
Afghanistan’s MYRP was designed to focus on ‘out of school
children’, by setting up community-based education (CBE) classes
close to where they live. Classes are arranged mostly in private
homes and sometimes in mosques for those who cannot make the long
journey to the nearest school.

“Most of these out of school children live in remote, rural
and hard to reach places,” Pal told IPS from Kabul. Pal explained
that focusing on out of school children was a context-specific
choice for Afghanistan, and may differ from MYRPs in other
countries with their own unique contexts.

Children attend a Community Based Education class in Kandahar in
southern Afghanistan. Credit: Frank Dejongh/UNICEF

The first year of the MYRP – with teaching starting in May
2019 – saw some 3,600 classes established in nine of
Afghanistan’s 34 provinces. This required newly recruited
teachers, 46 per cent of whom are women, to teach 122,000 children.
Nearly 60 per cent of the enrolled children are girls.

“When Education Cannot Wait came to Afghanistan in 2018 there
were 3.7 million out of school children. These were the children
and youth left furthest behind. Today, results from our multi-year
resilience investment in Afghanistan are among the most promising
in our global investment portfolio, especially for girls’ access
to education now reaching the target of 60 percent of our
investment. This shows how we can achieve education outcomes for
the most marginalized children and youth in complex crisis settings
by bringing together humanitarian and development actors under the
leadership of the Ministry of Education. The children and youth of
Afghanistan, the Afghan girls, deserve no less,” said the ECW
Director, Yasmine Sherif.

One new pupil in the classes is Khalid*, an eight-year-old boy
with a permanent foot disability, who was displaced by conflict
from Afghanistan’s Kunar province to Nangarhar province.
Previously deprived of education by war and poverty, Khalid now
attends a CBE class with access to free education and books. His
teacher praises his enthusiasm and creativity and says Khalid has
gone from being illiterate to learning how to read, write and
draw.

The closest school is 4 kilometres away from where Khalid lives,
too far for him to go, but now he has a classroom just 300 metres
from his home. Both Khalid’s life, and the life of his family,
have been transformed.

Khalid’s nine-year-old sister Hosna is able to attend an
all-girls government school close-by. “In the evening, Khalid and
I study together at home and help each other in our lessons,” she
says, expressing how astonished she was by Khalid’s rapid
improvement and capabilities. “Khalid is so intellectually
improved and motivated.”

Bringing education closer to home helps secure the backing of
both the community and the shuras (school councils), and is
particularly effective in addressing barriers to girls’
education, such as long distances, a lack of female teachers and
safety concerns. The role of School Management Shuras, or councils,
has been important in building a sense of community ownership,
although there are barriers to girls’ participation remains in
some provinces.

UNICEF-Afghanistan staff visit the supported Zanogra Community
Based Education cluster to distribute new school bags and notebooks
as the school year begins in Surkhrod district, Nangarhar province.
Credit: Marko Kokic/UNICEF

ECW classes also reach children in camps set up for those
displaced by conflict. Feizia Salahuddin quietly
recounts in an IPS video
how three of her siblings were killed.
The 12-year-old girl also lost her mother. “We face so many
hardships here,” she says. But then a smile appears when she
describes going to ECW-supported CBE classes in Herat. “I love to
study. It makes me happy,” she says.

An additional hammer blow to education this year came not from
bombs or landmines but COVID-19. The government ordered all schools
closed in March 2020, and CBE classes could only start reopening
recently. Children affected by the impact of COVID-19 school
closures now also faced increased vulnerability to recruitment by
parties to the conflict, particularly boys. The crisis also
exacerbated existing vulnerabilities of girls to child marriage and
teenage pregnancy.

Dave Mariano, Head of Communications for Afghanistan for Save
the Children International, an implementing partner for ECW, said
the government had initially decided CBE classes could continue,
but subsequently said teaching would have to continue via radio,
television and internet, to which millions of children do not have
access. Fortunately, classes eventually started to reopen with
appropriate COVID-19 safety measures.

“The reopening of CBEs required a lot of coordination to
ensure that necessary provisions were in place to safely reopen,
such as the availability of PPE, sanitisers, and even general
public awareness on how to mitigate COVID risks through basic
hygiene and other practices,” Mariano told IPS.

Despite the challenges, UNICEF is already looking ahead to
extend the MYRP, supported in this goal by the Ministry of
Education and donors. Sweden is the largest in-country donor in
Afghanistan, closely followed by Switzerland. However, UNICEF says
the MYRP remains “grossly under-funded” with a 70 per cent
funding gap across three years.

“We are advocating that three years of MYRP is not enough. The
primary school cycle in Afghanistan is six years. We can’t leave
the children half-way through. That is our main advocacy agenda
now,” said Pal.

ECW has given priority in Afghanistan to improving education for
girls with a focus on female teacher recruitment. This is being
achieved in Herat, where 97 per cent of teachers are women and 83
per cent of students in accelerated learning classes are girls.

For girls like Feizia Salahuddin, this means a chance to start
rebuilding lives shattered by conflict and displacement, giving a
sense that through a classroom and her textbooks, she is once more
part of a community.

“I get nervous when I get called to the blackboard, but my
teachers and classmates support me,” Feizia says. “That is why
I like them. They cooperate with me and teach me.”

*Names have been changed in accordance with child safeguarding
and communications policies.

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The post
Despite Conflict and COVID-19, Children Still Dream to Continue
Their Education in Afghanistan
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Despite Conflict and COVID-19, Children Still Dream to
Continue Their Education in Afghanistan