The Taliban have announced that primary schools across Afghanistan will reopen
– Although much is still unclear, it is a good sign that the Taliban care about public services, said Hashim, a project manager with the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee (NAC).
Hashim is based in Kabul and is responsible for a UNICEF-supported education project in Badakhshan Province. He believes that what the new school day will really be like for students will not be known until the Taliban have officially formed a government.
Since the Taliban took over Kabul on August 15, Afghanistan has been essentially shut down. Public services such as banks and schools have been closed, leading to concern among the population.
Last week, the Taliban announced that primary schools would reopen. Hashim has worked for NAC for several years and is currently leading a project in collaboration with UNICEF to get children who have dropped out of school due to COVID-19 back into school and ensure that they catch up with their lost learning. We had a chat with him from the Oslo office to hear his views on what has happened.
Can you tell us more about the Taliban announcement?
– A week ago, the Taliban announced that all students from 1st to 6th grade were going go back to school. But since teachers were not sure if they would be paid their salaries, many schools remained closed. On Wednesday, however, a Taliban spokesman announced that they would pay teachers’ salaries, so the schools reopened.
How did people react to this?
– Even though the Taliban have appointed an acting health minister, they have not yet formed a government. Many in the provinces are concerned and believe they cannot trust the Taliban.
Hashim adds that while he is no expert, he believes that 70 to 80% of families are sending their children to school now. For now, both boys and girls can go, because the Taliban have chosen to use the previous government’s school system.
– Most primary schools are pure girls’ or boys’ schools, but in some schools, there are both boys and girls. In these schools the boys sit on one side of the classroom and the girls on the other. This will surely change once the Taliban have formed a government, but for now they will be allowed to continue like this.
Does this mean that women are allowed to teach?
– Yes, in girls’ schools, women are allowed to teach. In schools where there are both boys and girls, it is more problematic, but as I said, they are allowed until further notice.
Hashim mentions multiple times how important he thinks it is that the girls are allowed to go to school, expressing their fears about what the future will bring. Nevertheless, he believes it is a good sign that the Taliban have now chosen to reopen schools.
The reopening of schools is a sign that the Taliban are thinking about Afghanistan’s population. Since August 15, Afghanistan hasn’t had a head of state, but in one or two days there will likely be a new government. The Taliban have shown that they are committed to having a functioning health system and public services, unlike the last time they ruled from 1996 to 2001.
What challenges will students and teachers face now?
– We don’t know if teachers are now receiving their salaries. Even if they get them, inflation is so high that they will struggle to survive on their wages. I am afraid that many teachers will give up their jobs because of their weakened purchasing power. When it comes to students, one of the challenges is that we do not yet know what will happen to students from the 7th grade, and whether both boys and girls are allowed to participate.
How does the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee respond to what has happened, and what do you do about the situation?
– It is still too early to say what will happen and what the Taliban will announce. But right now, it is important that we continue our work. If girls and boys are allowed to go to primary school, we will continue to support them. However, it will be difficult to support higher grades if these are reserved for boys. Therefore, we hope that the Taliban will express their commitment to the importance of education for boys and girls of all ages.