Afghan Private Schools Seen As Sign Of Hope,
May 9, 2009
By Farangis Najibullah
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Maftah is the first private school in Afghanistan's
northern Parwan Province. But its history is brief,
having opened its doors only two months ago.
Enrollment fees, at $15 per month, are beyond the
reach of most Afghans, but the presence of 300
children at the school shows that a number of families
have decided it is worth the price.
The school claims it can offer better teaching
facilities, and more qualified teachers than public
And Samiullah, a 10-year-old student who attended a
public school before enrolling in Maftah, says he
notices the difference.
"Our teachers work hard with us. They are very
strict," he says. "In public school, teachers don't
try hard. My parents put me in private school so I
could learn more."
Since the authorities opened the way for private
investment into Afghanistan's education system nearly
two years ago, more than 300 private schools have
opened from Kabul to remote provinces.
And not all parents who have enrolled their
children at Maftah are wealthy.
Parwan resident Hajji Rahmatullah says he saved
money and took up extra work to cover the costs of his
son's private education. He views it as an investment
in his son's future.
"A month ago, I brought my son to private school,
and I can already see during that one month that my
son's schoolwork has improved," Rahmatullah says.
The emergence of private schools, the majority of
which are secular, and parents' eager interest in
educating their children is seen by many as a sign of
growing stability and optimism for the future.
Only eight years ago there wasn't a single secular
school in Afghanistan, and those who were able to
receive an education attended religious schools. All
the students -- less than half a million per year --
were boys, since girls were completely banned from
schools by the hard-line Taliban regime.
This academic year, more than 7 million children
are attending Afghanistan's nearly 9,000 schools --
both private and public, with both systems boasting
that girls make up 35-40 percent of their enrollment.
The revival of Afghanistan's education system,
especially girls' return to schools, is considered one
of the biggest achievements of the Afghan government
that came to power after the defeat of the Taliban in
However, success has come at a dear cost. In
volatile southern and eastern areas, militants have
set fire to schools and have attacked teachers and
students as soft targets.
More than 60 schools have been burned down in the
past year, and some 650 more have been closed down due
to the lack of security.
In a shocking example of the extreme lengths those
opposed to girls' education will take, two attackers
sprayed acid on the faces of several female students
in southern Kandahar last year, causing severe burns
to their faces and arms.
The lack of security as well as the deeply
conservative society's traditions still force many
parents in rural areas to keep their daughters out of
schools. In villages, education officials reach out to
elders and influential religious leaders to help
persuade parents to send their daughters to schools.
In many towns and villages, local councils have been
set up to protect schools.
Such efforts "are paying off," according to
Mohammad Siddiq Patman, Afghanistan's deputy education
minister, who says that "the number of parents who
don't support girls' education have significantly
dropped in the past year."
Even in Kandahar, where the infamous acid attack
took place, the victims have returned to schools after
receiving medical treatment, Patman says.
Lack Of Funding
Such developments are taken as a success, as is the
increased number of private and public schools. But
the country still needs thousands of new schools to
accommodate all school-age children, and in most of
Afghanistan's 34 provinces, schools desperately seek
According to Deputy Education Minister Patman, some
schools have had to hire students from higher grades
to fill teaching vacancies. He says his ministry
depends heavily on foreign aid to train teachers,
provide textbooks, and to build new schools and other
"Without foreign aid we wouldn't even be able to
pay our teachers' salaries," Patman says. "We still
need 7,000 new schools. We need at least 5,000 school
laboratories. Many of our students still sit on the
floor. We need desks and chairs for them. We need new
buildings. We have to train qualified teachers. All of
these require money and Afghanistan cannot finance
this without international assistance."
On the issue of financing, private schools may hold
some advantages over their public counterparts.
Abdul Wasir Mirzad, the owner and director of
Maftah, founded the school in Parwan Province with
$20,000 of his own money.
Convinced there will be no shortage of parents
willing to pay for their sons' and daughters'
education, Mirzad is already making plans to open
several new schools in nearby provinces.
Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Parwan
Province Ahmad Hanaesh contributed to this report