'Attitudinal change' as Taliban no longer opposes girls' education

28th January 2011 at 00:00
Afghan minister says profound cultural shift is taking place, and hits out at UK for failure to invest in his country's schools

The Taliban is to abandon its opposition to the education of girls in Afghanistan, according to claims made by the country's education minister.

In an interview with The TES, Farooq Wardak said discussions with the Taliban had led to an agreement that girls were entitled to go to school.

The development would mark a major U-turn: the Taliban administration which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 outlawed the education of girls, with repercussions for those found flouting the rule.

Mr Wardak, who was visiting England earlier this month, claimed there had been significant changes in attitude towards education since the Taliban was toppled and that they would not be reversed.

"It is attitudinal change, it is behavioural change, it is cultural change," he said. "What I am hearing at the very upper policy level of the Taliban is that they are no more opposing education and also girls' education."

He added: "I hope, Inshallah, soon there will be a peaceful negotiation, a meaningful negotiation with our own opposition . and that will not compromise at all the basic human rights and basic principles which have been guiding us."

Mr Wardak said cultural barriers were gradually being overcome. "In the deepest pockets of our society, not only the Taliban, there was not friendly behaviour with education. That is the reason why, in many provinces of Afghanistan, we do not have either male or female teachers."

During the Taliban era, the percentage of girls of the one million students was zero per cent. The percentage of females out of 20,000 teachers was zero per cent.

Today, 38 per cent of seven million students and 30 per cent of the 180,000 teachers are female.

Mr Wardak conceded that there was still an enormous task ahead. In more than 400 districts and urban centres in Afghanistan, 200 still have no girls enrolled in high school, he said. In 245 districts, there are no qualified female teachers.

Mr Wardak criticised the contributions made by the UK Government to improving education in his country, although the decisions on some of the UK Government's annual pound;130 million development aid are left to the Afghan authorities.

Mr Wardak praised the help given to improving schools by Norway, Denmark, Germany, Canada and the US, but said the UK should give more. "We want them to invest in education," he said, "because we believe that is the fundamental cornerstone and an important prerequisite for bringing a sustainable peace and a sustainable development."

Asked whether that meant the British Government should redirect money spent on the armed forces into education, Mr Wardak said: "Let's address the key prerequisite that is education, even if that is in the cost of a re-prioritisation of the resources allocated to Afghanistan."

A Government spokeswoman said it was committed to improving education in Afghanistan: "Last year, the British Government financed the salaries of 169,000 teachers. We have helped Afghan communities to build schools in every province of the country."

scoted@tes.co.uk.

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