'Three Cups of Tea' for Kabul University; Controversial Book Reveals Diversion of Funds Needed for Higher Education

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 27, 2011 | Go to article overview

'Three Cups of Tea' for Kabul University; Controversial Book Reveals Diversion of Funds Needed for Higher Education


Byline: M. Ashraf Haidari, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As headlines about the flawed book, Three Cups of Tea, by Mr. Greg Mortenson punctuate major U.S. papers, two important messages - one of which the book makes clear - must be heeded. First, Mr. Mortenson's stories, true or somewhat false, highlight the importance of providing Afghan children with access to primary education. This is a human right, which has been universally accepted. The focus on girls' education in rural Afghanistan has been recognized by the Afghan government as part of our firm commitment to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, understanding that educating girls will empower more than half of the Afghan population. Indeed, a healthy mother makes a healthy family, which in turn constitutes a healthy and productive society.

But the other message that complements Three Cups of Tea has received scant attention and resources from the international community. Improving the quality of education and investing in the higher education sector, which must prepare a new generation of Afghans to begin gradually owning and leading the process of rebuilding and developing our country, continues to be neglected. For the purposes of publicity, fundraising and politics, donors and their related nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as private individuals, have collectively focused on school-building projects without necessarily ensuring that those schools have qualified teachers, a modern curriculum or labs and libraries equipped with information technology systems to develop a productive labor force that can help integrate Afghanistan with the global economy.

Without looking further afield, the crumbling status of Afghanistan's major university, which once educated students from developing countries, is tragically telling. In November 2009, I paid a visit to Kabul University's library, which used to be one of the largest academic depositories in the region. But I found the front section of the library partitioned into smaller divisions, each temporarily staffed and run by a donor country with its national flag sitting on the corner of the receptionist's desk. Going through the larger, orphaned half of the library with broken shelves, outdated science books from 1940s or older, and no central heating or air-conditioning system, I wondered where the hundreds of millions of dollars, which donors have committed and even disbursed for the education sector, had been spent. …

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