Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Girls Go Back to School to Teach Taliban a Lesson

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Girls Go Back to School to Teach Taliban a Lesson

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert Fox in Lashkar Gah

THE Girls' High School in Lashkar Gah is a showcase inner city academy for Afghanistan -- with a truancy record that any London secondary from Highgate to Poplar might envy.

"The place was a complete mess, vandalised, carpets torn up, doors broken," recalls Mrs Jamila Najarzi of when she became head teacher five years ago.

Before that the Taliban stopped children attending altogether. Now she is head of a staff of 180 teachers, of whom only eight are men, and 8,000 students.

Of these, 3,000 boys study up to Grade 6, -- roughly between 12 and 13 -- while the 5,000 girls, whose ages range between seven and 22, study to Grade 12 to prepare them for college education.

"I like Persian, art, maths and chemistry -- of course English language," says Alia, 19, in clear English. "Go on, ask them questions," urges the form teacher, Pamanda Majouf, "they all speak English".

Taking up the challenge, Nasli, a serious 17-year-old, declares that her ambition is "to solve our country's problems -- I would like to go to university." She explains she has always been encouraged to learn -- she has a brother and sister in the school and her mother is one of the teachers.

She tells me that she realises that things are much tougher out in the rural villages. The girls look cool in their standard school uniform of black jacket and trousers, and white headscarf worn as a form of shalwar kameez.

They are open and welcoming -- for the encounter with an English journalist is a first -- and say I can take pictures, though the head teacher says it would be prudent, as well as courteous, to avoid photographing their faces.

Security is the major problem for education in Helmand, Jamila Najarzi states bluntly in front of colleagues from the government. "And 80 per cent of the security comes from the ISAF international forces. …

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