Dozens of schools reopen in volatile south

KABUL, 26 March 2009 (IRIN) - Eighty-one primary and secondary schools which had previously been closed in southern areas of Afghanistan owing to insecurity have reopened in the past three months, the Education Ministry (MoE) has said.

A series of individual agreements were reached during behind-the-scenes talks between the MoE, local tribal elders, religious scholars and insurgent groups, the MoE said.

“The reopening of 81 schools in Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan provinces will enable over 50,000 students to reclaim their right to education,” Asif Nang, a spokesman for the MoE, told IRIN in Kabul.

Some 15 percent of the 50,000 students are girls, MoE said.

Local people had agreed to ensure the safety and security of the schools, the students and the teaching staff, Nang said.

Efforts are also under way to reopen hundreds of other schools through community-based initiatives and negotiations.

Over 570 primary and secondary schools are still closed - mostly in southern regions where Taliban insurgents have burned down schools and killed or terrified students and teachers. Hundreds of thousands of students had been denied education as a result, MoE officials said.

Over 290 security incidents involving schools, students and school workers were reported in 2008, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Rapprochement policy

Since his appointment as education minister in October, Farooq Wardak has engaged in a policy of rapprochement with the insurgents, and tried to persuade them to allow schools to be reopened.

The Taliban oppose girls’ formal education and all types of outdoor work by women, due to their strict interpretation of Islamic Sharia law.

“The 81 schools have been reopened owing to support from tribal elders, local councils, religious scholars and ‘patriotic Taliban’,” said Wardak’s chief spokesman, Asif Nang.

Concessions

In a new directive issued by the education minister on 22 March, all schools and education centres in the country have been instructed to ensure prayer breaks during school hours, a practice which has hitherto not been formally enforced, but which is expected to please the Taliban.

The MoE also said it would consider favourably requests by the insurgents for the renaming of schools as `madrasas’, and teachers as `mullahs’, and would be prepared to tweak the existing curriculum, which the MoE believes is already in line with Islamic precepts, to accommodate any minor misgivings the insurgents might have.

The MoE’s overtures seem to be in line with the government’s policy of reconciliation with the insurgents in order to end the armed conflict. The media have recently carried numerous reports of government intentions to reach a modus vivendi with the Taliban.

Human rights activists have warned that girls’ education must not be left out of the equation in talks with the Taliban.

According to UNICEF, the country has one of the highest adult illiteracy rates in the world: 71 percent in general, 86 percent for females.        

Source: Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), a project the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. IRIN is UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.

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