Schools in Afghanistan do not have breaks in spring and summer, but since March all private and public educational centers across the country have been closed as part of COVID-19 restrictions.
Afghanistan already has one of the worst literacy rates in the world and the new pandemic restrictions, which have kept about ten million students from classrooms, have started to reverse the country’s hard-won educational achievements made in the past 18 years. In the long run, such a gigantic backslide in education will be catastrophic for the country’s development prospects.
While the government continues to pay the salaries of over 150,000 teachers and administrators at public schools, it has offered no assistance or support for private schools and universities.
As the administrator of an elementary private school in Kabul, I find the government’s total lack of support to our school devastating. While we charge no fees when school is closed and have no other revenue source, we are contractually obligated to pay our rents on time. Our teachers receive no salary. We also have to pay utility bills.
I founded an educational institute in 2012 and an elementary school in Kabul in 2018 not for profit, but to help provide quality education to our community and to fight our biggest national problem: illiteracy. In our school, we also enroll children from some of the poorest families who otherwise cannot attend public schools. We take pride in the quality of our education, which we ceaselessly enhance in close collaboration with parents and community leaders. Unfortunately, I had to give up on the educational institute because I was not able to pay the rent.
Over the last three months, as schools were shutdown, I spoke with administrators from many other private schools in Kabul, Mazar, Herat and Kandahar. We all share the same fate and are seriously concerned that our schools are disintegrating fast and, as a result, our students will fail in their education.
Afghanistan has received more than $100 million in global assistance to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. The government has also allocated national resources to combat the pandemic. However, the government has offered no help or support to private educators and has left us entirely at the mercy of our landlords.
Private education is relatively new and fledging in Afghanistan, but it has already become a critical national sector with enormous impact on our socio-economic development.
Most Afghan children do not have the luxury of online education – something that might be available only for the kids of the rich and the powerful. The overwhelming majority of us are classified among the least developed people in the world and we have terrifying poverty indicators. Even before the pandemic lockdown was enforced, close to four million school-age Afghan children could not access education, according to aid agencies.
As the very existence of the private education sector is under threat, we call on President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and Vice President Amrullah Saleh to pay attention to this national emergency. We urge these leaders to help us, private educators, to quickly resolve our most critical problems.
We also call on the donor community, the UN and the World Bank, to hear our plea for help and ensure our voices and concerns are reflected in their aid programs for Afghanistan.
Afghanistan cannot afford to raise its children in the darkness of no education.
At private schools, we stand ready to care for and educate the next generation of Afghans. Right now, badly hit by the Covid-19 lockdown measures, we need assistance from our government as well as from the donor community, to save our schools from shutting down permanently.
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