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Kabul fills educational void for country boys

Afghanistan - With many rural areas disrupted by conflict, a system of 'tribal' schools in the capital is filling the gap

Afghanistan - With many rural areas disrupted by conflict, a system of 'tribal' schools in the capital is filling the gap

"Ghost schools" litter Afghanistan; empty structures that are the result of well-intentioned plans to reconstruct the nation's education system, but that have been left to decay.

Some are too dangerous for pupils to get to, while others are too far from children's homes or unable to attract teachers to work there. Huge sums of money have been spent, but there it little to show for it in many of the country's further flung regions.

In response, a new type of school has emerged in the capital, Kabul, which is beginning to demonstrate great success and could be rolled out to other cities.

These so-called "tribal schools" cater specifically for boys from rural and conflict-ridden border areas - the tribal regions - which do not have their own functioning schools.

Pupils are chosen by local elders and officials, who give priority to those from poor families. There are currently about 6,000 students registered at the three Kabul secondary schools. Tuition and boarding fees are paid for by the Border Affairs Ministry but the curriculum follows that set by the Ministry of Education.

During term time, classes run from 8am until 1pm. In the afternoons, many boys take private classes in English and computing and because they board and can devote themselves to studying, the boys' marks are generally good. Of the final year pupils who sat the most recent Kabul University entrance exam, 70 per cent passed, compared with the overall pass rate of 60 per cent.

During the holidays, pupils from more secure areas can return to their families. Those from more dangerous areas are allowed to stay on. During one recent holiday, USAID, the US development agency, paid for a computer course to keep the pupils busy during the break.

"I am so glad (we have) these schools", said minister of border affairs Assadullah Khalid. "We have students from all over the country, particularly from insecure areas. Kabul is a city and we are trying our best to make all facilities available to the students so they can learn about modern life as well. And, for sure, the standard of education in Kabul is higher than it is in the countryside."

Funding remains a problem, however. Two of the schools date back 40 years and are in need of renovation. Construction on the newest of the two started in 2005 and it finally opened last year. Of the planned 16 accommodation blocks, only three have been completed.

Overcrowding is also a problem. Mr Khalid would like to be able to expand the tribal schools in Kabul and also open them in the provincial capitals, such as Kandahar in Afghanistan's south, Nangarhar and Khost in the east, and Kunduz in the north.

The boys who attend the school recognise their good fortune.Nineteen-year-old Allahdad, one of 60 Nuristani boys at the Rahman Babur School, said: "Nuristan is a good place but there are no schools and no teachers. Here, we have good discipline and the teachers are good.

"I will be happy because, when I go back, I will be an educated person. I will know how to read and how to teach others."

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