Over the weeks, girls in the western province of Herat have returned to high school classrooms – the result of a unique, concerted effort by teachers and parents to allow local Taliban administrators to reopen them.
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Taliban officials have never officially approved the reopening after a lobbying campaign, but they have not stopped teachers and parents from starting their own classes in early October. “Parents, students and teachers have joined hands to do this,” said Mohammad Saber Meshal, head of the Herat Teachers’ Union. “This is the only place where community activists and teachers took the risk to stay and talk to the Taliban.”
Teachers keep pushing. About 40 female principals, including Basiratkha, met with senior Taliban education officials in September to address their main concerns.
“We have assured them that the classes are segregated, with only female teachers, and the girls wearing proper hijab,” Basiratkah said. “We do not need to change anything. We are Muslims and we already observe all the requirements of Islam. ”
By October, the teachers felt that they would not stand in the way of the Taliban’s absolute agreement. Teachers began spreading the word on Facebook pages and messaging app channels that the girls’ high school would reopen on October 3. Parents set up a telephone chain to pass the news and students informed classmates.
Mastoura, whose two daughters are in first and eighth grades in Tajrobawai, called on other parents to bring their daughters to school. Some are worried that the Taliban will harass the girls or attack the militants. Mastura and other women still take their daughters to school every day.
“We had concerns, and we still have them,” said Mastura, who uses a name similar to many Afghans. But girls must learn. Your life is stuck without education. ”
Fadih Ismailzadeh, a 14-year-old ninth-grader, said she was overjoyed at the news. “We lost all hope that the schools would reopen,” he said.
Not all students were present when the door was opened in Tajrobawai. But as the parents became more confident, the class was admitted a few days later, Basiratkhah said. There are about 3,900 students in grades 1-12.
Recently, girls in 10th grade chemistry class took notes when a teacher explained the ingredients for making water. Rows of younger students pass through the hall to the school yard.
Shehabuddin Saqib, the Taliban’s director of education in Herat province, insisted the group had no problem with girls going to school.
“We publicly tell everyone they should come to school,” he told the Associated Press. “The schools are open without any problems. We have never issued a government order forbidding high school age girls from going to school. ”
Herat is the only place where girls’ high schools have reopened across the province, although schools have reopened in several separate districts in northern Afghanistan, including the city of Mazar-e Sharif.
Meshaal pointed to changes within the Taliban, saying some parties were more open. “They understand that people will resist education.”
He said the Taliban were not as corrupt as the deposed, internationally backed government.
“With the previous government, if we proposed something for the good of the school, they would throw the idea in the trash because they could not benefit from it,” he said.
“The Taliban have spent all their time fighting in the mountains. They do not know the administration. So when we meet with them, we try to give them advice and after discussion they start coming around, ”he said.
Even then the teachers are struggling. Like other government employees, they have not been paid for months. The education department did not provide funding for other needs, such as maintenance and supplies, Meshal said.
The opening of a girls’ high school in Herat is an exception. There has been less success in other parts of the country.
Fahima Popal, principal of Hino No. 1 High School for Girls, said teachers in the southern city of Kandahar had contacted local Taliban officials about reopening the girls’ high school but were denied it. Officials say they can do nothing without instructions from the central education ministry. Meanwhile, Papal said parents are asking him when their daughters will be able to return to class.
“We hope one day we will get good news for them,” said Papal. But he said he believed it was better to wait for the central government’s action without repeating the Herat test. If the provincial authorities allow the reopening, the ministry may reverse their decision, which would “harm students and teachers,” he said.
The full return of girls is a top demand of the international community and this must happen before UN agencies agree to pay teachers directly.
So far, the Taliban have refused to set a timetable and most schools are starting winter holidays until March. In a speech on Saturday, Taliban Prime Minister Mohammad Hassan Akhund emphasized that “women are already learning,” adding that “God willing, we hope to expand it.”
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