After the Taliban: Afghanistan's Kids Ready for Education, but Schools Not

Article excerpt

In Afghanistan, the number of kids in school has grown more than six times since the Taliban were in power. But millions of children still wait, and classrooms and qualified teachers are lacking.

Qala-e-Zaman Khan High School is bordered by dirt roads at the base

of a small hill in one of Kabul's many districts. The school's

mud brick buildings have been recently painted, and its bright blue

walls, nestled against the drab hillside, stand out from a distance.

"All the faculty pooled money to buy the paint," says principal

Abdullah Amin, "and our families helped with the work."

But the paint is just one step along a very long road, he notes.

"Our biggest problem," he says, "is that we don't have

adequate classroom space for the high number of students."

Under the Taliban, Afghanistan had only 900,000 students, all boys.

The curriculum revolved around religious instruction. Today, some 6

million students, boys and girls, attend schools - though some 5.3

million children wait in the wings, held back by cultural or security

reasons.

But the momentum poses a huge challenge to a country pummeled by war

and fraud-ridden elections. The rapid rise in enrollment has led to

two pressing problems: a lack of professional teachers and too few

schools and classrooms.

At Qala-e-Zaman Khan High School, those problems are clearly on

display. The school has 4,000 students, but only 26 classrooms. A

small house two blocks away has been rented, but has done little to

ease overcrowding.

Ghulam, a teacher in Kabul for the past three years, says the

problem is endemic. "According to guidelines, we should have no

more than 40 students in a class," Ghulam says. "But as it is, we

have a minimum of 50 to 60, and often 80 or more. This creates a lot

of problems for the teacher, and as a result the quality of

instruction goes down."

And, says Asif Nang, 75 percent of teachers hold only a high school

diploma. "The greatest challenge facing the Ministry of Education

is the lack of professional teachers," says Mr. Nang, a ministry

spokesman. Poor pay and better opportunities for college graduates

are factors.

"I would like to teach," says Aziza Kakar, a senior at Kabul's

Education University. "But the salary just isn't enough, so I

will try ... for an NGO [nongovernmental organization]."

Merit pay on the way

Teachers make between $50 and $100 a month. A US government official

in Kabul says USAID is supporting a pay increase within the Ministry

of Education that would raise the pay of Grade 12 qualified teachers

from $96 a month to $130 - a figure still not competitive with the

private sector. …