In Afghanistan, education must take precedence over politics – Al Jazeera English

In Afghanistan, education must take precedence over politics – Al Jazeera English

Afghanistan is facing a critical moment in which international assistance is urgently needed to prevent the collapse of its education system. Advances in education have come to symbolise the achievements in Afghanistan’s reconstruction over the last 20 years, with more than 9 million children enrolled in school.

However, according to UNICEF, there are currently more than 4 million out-of-school children, with more than half of them being girls. The complex economic and humanitarian crisis that is engulfing the country is expected to get worse in the coming year and threatens to undo the progress of the previous two decades. Hundreds of thousands of teachers have gone unpaid for almost six months, with teachers in Herat province protesting to demand that the Taliban pay their salaries.

This fast-deteriorating situation threatens to trigger one of the worst education emergencies in the world. UNHCR has warned that nearly 23 million people are suffering from extreme levels of hunger, with nine million at risk of famine. With Afghan livelihoods threatened, many Afghan families will inevitably be forced into choosing survival over pursuing an education. There is a real risk that the quantity and quality of education will drop precipitously, with the madrassa re-emerging as the main form of schooling in Afghanistan and a lost generation of Afghan children being denied educational opportunities.

To mitigate the crisis, education must be prioritised over politics. The sanctity of education is a deeply-held social value, in part rooted in the centrality of education in Islam. “Read, in the name of your Lord,” is the first verse of the Quran that was revealed to Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

With the Taliban in power, it is undeniable that upholding the right to education is ultimately the group’s responsibility. However, given the scale of the challenge, international support is urgently needed. The following messages should be heeded by Afghan and international actors as they work together to resolve the educational crisis.

First, while some of the erratic statements issued by the Taliban about girls’ education or the unsuitability of school structures for gender segregation have given the impression that its arrival resulted in the educational crisis, the current situation is rooted deep structural and long-standing challenges that predate the Taliban. These systemic weaknesses include but are not limited to low educational quality, cultural restrictions on girls’ access to education, the Afghan government’s low capacity and reliance on aid, and the difficulties in incentivising trained teachers to relocate to rural and isolated areas.

Second, these pre-existing conditions limit what the Taliban could be reasonably expected to achieve in a short time-frame. The complete return of girls to school is not only a top demand of the international community but a universal right and the engine for the development of the country. The international community is right to fear the Taliban may restrict educational freedom for women and girls, as it did when it ruled most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. However, following its return to power, the Taliban has challenged such fears, pointing to the fact that girls in the provinces of Kunduz, Balkh, and Sar-e-Pul have returned to school.

The diverging paths of education access in the north and south of Afghanistan have been a cause for concern, with many observers asking why …….