International 22/09/2021

"If the Taliban won't let us study, we'll have to stay at home"

Taliban spokesman says girls over 12 will be allowed to return to school, but does not clarify when

3 min
First year primary school pupils at Zarghona School in Kabul

Special envoy to KabulAccreditation as a foreign journalist in Afghanistan is now easier under the Taliban than it was under the previous government. Within hours, the Ministry of Information provides you with a letter that says you can move anywhere you want in the country and your work should be made easier. However, the aforementioned letter is useless if you want to enter a public school for girls. You need a special permit. Further proof that girls' education is a thorn in the side of the new regime. However, what is even more surprising is that the head of education in Kabul, Ahmad Zamir Ghuara, who already held that post under the previous government, now backs what the radicals are saying and is the one who is putting the most obstacles in the way. "I hope you won't report negatively. The Taliban are very committed to girls' education", he warns.

At Zarghona School most of the classrooms were empty on Tuesday. The school is one of the oldest public girls' schools in the Afghan capital. Located in the Qala-e-Fathullah area, it is 82 years old. Despite this, it has been maintained very well. The building has two floors and is divided into different wings. The corridors are decorated with didactic motifs and the classrooms are particularly well maintained. In the courtyard flies the traditional flag of Afghanistan, black, red and green, and even a mural of King Amanullah Khan, who was the most progressive king of Afghanistan. During his reign the first schools for girls were opened. In the school there is no Taliban flag, no white flag, and no reference to the new regime.

A classroom at Zarghona School on Tuesday

Even so the headmistress, Nasrin Nurzai, avoids answering compromising questions and criticising the new government. She even implies that the situation is not so catastrophic: "I believe the Taliban will let the girls study". At present, however, only 2,000 of the 8,500 girls at the Zarghona school attend classes. The rest remain at home against their will because the Taliban are only allowing girls between the ages of 7 and 12 to go to school for the time being. As a result, the school timetable has also been reduced to a minimum. There are only classes from seven in the morning until half past ten in the morning, whereas before the school was open until four in the afternoon. And most of the teachers are still idle: only 62 of the 234 teachers work. "Last month they paid everyone's salary, but I don't know what will happen next month", the headmistress admits.

The teachers, on the other hand, are not so confident. A few of them talking animatedly in the courtyard confess that they fear for their future. "I'm an English and computer teacher, and I don't know if the Taliban will want to keep these subjects", says one.  Other subjects are also in the doldrums. Physical education, for example. Secondary school girls at Zarghona played volleyball, basketball, cricket and athletics.

Now only girls between the ages of 7 and 12 are allowed to attend classes

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Tuesday that girls will be able to return to school "soon", but did not specify when. Secondary school students - boys - however, already returned last Saturday. "We are finalising some details", he argued. Those details are, no more and no less, that boys and girls will study in separate classrooms. In public schools this was already the case under the previous government, both in primary and secondary education. But not in private schools. And therein lies the problem. Moreover, female teachers taught boys and male teachers taught girls, and that will not be possible now either.

In the Zarghona classrooms you can hear the students repeating the lesson out loud as if they were parrots. Education here is based on memorising and not too much on thinking. However, the answer given by some students when asked what they want to be when they grow up is shocking. "I want to be an artist because I like to paint", answers one, Kausar, 12. Another, Hena, 13, says she wants to be an engineer, and she knows exactly what engineers do: "They build buildings and cities. I want to make schools". What will they do if they can't go to college? Both remain silent for a moment and then give the same answer: "Stay at home".

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