The view from here - Afghanistan - Women teachers start to make Guest appearances

Lianne Gutcher

When 17-year-old Nargez learned that she had not been selected to participate in a teacher training programme for female high-school students, she started turning up to the classes anyway.

She told the headmistress of the Malaka Soraya High School - in the Behsud district of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar - that she did not care that she would not receive the $3-a-day stipend the other 25 students would get. Along with three other girls, she pleaded to be allowed to train. Eventually, they all won their places on the Girls' Urgent Early Steps to Teaching Success (Guest) programme.

Run by Save the Children International, this is a groundbreaking initiative that aims to address the chronic shortfall in female teachers in Afghanistan. By boosting the number of female teachers, it also hopes to increase the number of girls attending school. Many Afghan families, especially in the more rural and conservative parts of the country, will not allow their daughters to attend school if the teacher is male. For example, in Behsud district there are just 172 female teachers for 14,964 female students. By contrast there are 821 male teachers for 32,072 male students.

The grade 10, 11 and 12 students enrolled in the scheme attend teaching workshops in the morning or afternoon - owing to lack of resources pupils in Afghanistan attend school for only 4.5 hours per day. When they graduate from high school they can immediately start work as primary teachers.

The project is based on the Afghan ministry of education's national teacher training programme, which covers teaching methods and subject matter. But Save the Children International has included training days on children's rights and positive discipline. The girls also get practical teaching experience.

Guest started as a pilot project in central Bamiyan province last year, signing up 240 students. Of the 152 who have graduated so far, 26 have gone straight into teaching, 60 have applied to the department of education for jobs, 39 have decided to further their teacher training at college and 22 have gone to university; only five have dropped out.

As well as running in Bamiyan and Nangarhar provinces, the programme is due to start in Uruzgan province. If donor funding is found, Save the Children hopes to extend it to Sar-e Pul, Mazar-e Sharif, Faryab and Kabul provinces.

The Taliban has appeared to drop its opposition to girls' education over the past year and a half, but it remains controversial in parts of the country. However, there is hope that this will change. "They are so determined and brave, these students," said Dr Ihsanullah, education co-ordinator at Save the Children International. "Everyone wants to be a teacher."

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Lianne Gutcher

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