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Riddled with bullet holes and problems

Kabul's schools opened this month for the first time in three years. Peace is slowly taking a grip on this devastated city. The shelling stopped a month ago, when the government pushed the rebel Islamic factions out of rocket range.

The government has been quick to capitalise on its military success by trying to normalise life in the capital. Its first move was to reopen a few of Kabul's 50 primary and secondary schools, closed during the intense fighting since 1992, but only those which were not too badly damaged.

About 150 children turned up at the Die Amani Oberreal school in Kabul's new town. There are no desks, chairs, books or blackboards. What could be moved has been looted, what remained is devastated.

The classrooms are riddled with bullet holes and there is no glass in the windows. Those wanting to learn have to sit on the freezing stone floor huddled together to keep warm, while the teacher writes on the wall.

Before the pupils could return to their studies the government had to rehouse the thousands who had taken refuge in school buildings across the city. The classrooms became home to those forced from theirs by the fighting.

"The chairs and tables were burnt a long time ago. They even started burning the textbooks," said Zamina Nazri, a teacher at the school.

Kabul University formally reopened on April 4. It had opened last year on a different site but closed a week after a rocket destroyed a faculty, killing seven lecturers. Everyone is more optimistic this time.

The government has no money to rebuild the university. The campus was plundered during the three years that it was on the front line, swapped between the government and the Hezb-i-Wahdat faction. Only books remain, as the mujahideen, the largely illiterate Muslim guerillas, had no use for them.

"We need running water, we need generators, we need an electrical system, we need 5,000 benches and we need computers," said Professor Hassanyar of the university.

Many of the educated elite have either fled or fallen victim to successive regimes, first the Communists and more recently the Islamic fundamentalists. The university chancellor claims that less than 20 per cent of the teaching staff are still in Kabul.

The struggle to rebuild Afghanistan's educational infrastructure has begun, but it will be a slow process. Less than 29 per cent of the population are literate, falling to 12 per cent for women. This is not helped by the resistance in the rural areas to the education of women. The Taliban, the so-called student militia that managed to seize the southern half of the country, has outlawed female education at all levels, decreeing that it is un-Islamic. Though recently defeated on the outskirts of Kabul by the government, the Taliban is still a powerful force and any future peace deal will have to take account of its agenda.

Though there is some glimmer of hope for the educational future of the country, it has much to catch up on and much to fear from reactionary groups and the renewal of fighting.

For many young boys joining the army is an attractive alternative to school. Parlwashah Alim, a teacher, explains. "For many it is the best source of income. It pays nearly $30 (Pounds 19) a month. I don't know what we can do with these boys. Most of them are illiterate and they will never come to school now."

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