The long and protracted conflict in Afghanistan has been responsible for many misfortunes for the population. For its young people one of these has been accessing a quality and safe education. Under Taliban rule, many government schools were shut down and thousands of girls were forced to discontinue their studies. A generation of young people – some 3.5 million (60% of them girls) – remain in danger of losing the opportunity to learn, leaving them potentially trapped in a cycle of poverty that education and training could be instrumental in breaking.
Thankfully, in recent years some schools have begun to reopen, like the Jazeel* Girls’ High School, in northern Afghanistan. Despite there still being several obstacles preventing young women from attending school - among them, poor facilities, a lack of qualified teachers (in particular female) and the distance to school - the most determined young women and their families are still finding a way. Indeed, two students of the high school, Farah* and Zara*, were so keen to complete their studies they braved the 5km journey every day on foot.
Both Farah and Zara’s large families depend on farming as their main source of income, which is both gruelling and often poorly-paid work. After their graduation from the local high school in 2013, they were keen to find alternative employment, and since they knew first-hand of the lack of female teachers, they spotted an opportunity to fill this gap and become teachers themselves.
However, the low income of their families proved a stumbling block, with neither household being able to afford the 100 AFS (1.50 USD) daily commute to the Teacher Training College (TTC). The 24km round-trip to the TTC was simply too far for even these determined young women to walk every day.
When the UK AID-funded STAGES Girls’ Education Challenge (GEC) project began implementing in Afghanistan, with guidance from the District Education Department of the Ministry for Education, it worked with the Girls’ High School, the TTC and community members to identify girls who had dropped out of school or were at risk of dropping out due to economic reasons.
Thirty-one students, including Farah and Zara, were identified. In response, STAGES provided them with a small stipend which was used to cover their daily transportation costs to attend the TTC. Thanks to this intervention both young women were able to attend the TTC, graduated in 2015 and immediately began to seek out careers as teachers in their community.
In the same year, the teacher at the community-based education (CBE) class – also established through the GEC – in a nearby village resigned. This left the small village school without a teacher. Working alongside community members, STAGES began to search for a replacement. The villagers preferred a female teacher for the role, given that many of their young daughters were becoming young adults. Farah was nominated by the Shura (a religious group of community members that meet to assist in village matters). After undergoing the CBE test and successfully completing the interview, Farah was hired for the position. She is now teaching fourth grade, enabling dozens of other girls in her community to access quality education.
Farah credits the stipend she received for enabling her to continue her teacher training, where she “learned methods of teaching, subject knowledge, fair teaching and so on”. Of her experience of being the CBE teacher in the village, she had this to say:
“I am enjoying and feeling good that I can support the village children...Thirteen years ago there were a lack of facilities for girls’ education, and families were not ready to send their girls to those schools, especially ones which only had male teachers. But now there are better facilities for girls’ education like a separate girls’ school, female teachers, shura support and so on. My family encouraged me to learn and I also like teaching, so I worked hard and now have become a teacher. I am so glad to have this job and work for my community.”
Zara also found a position after finishing her training. In 2015, a Swedish NGO based in Afghanistan established a literacy class for disabled girls in Zara’s former high school. Zara was encouraged by the organisation to submit a job application, which included an exam and an in-person interview. She was subsequently selected for the position and has been teaching the class since 2016.
Zara reflects that she has also been very fortunate to have received the stipend and the additional support that the GEC has provided her in establishing her career, describing it as a “big opportunity [to teach] the disabled children who have difficulty in regular class”. To give these students a chance at a “brighter future” has made a huge difference to Zara’s self-esteem, and even in her spare time, she takes much pleasure in studying new topics to provide better lessons for her students.
These stipends are just one of the ways that STAGES is working to remove the barriers to girls’ education. Recognising the many barriers girls face in Afghanistan, the implementing consortium works with communities in a variety of ways to support girls to safely access a quality education. This includes building schools closer to where girls live and training more female teachers. Together, these efforts have supported over 210,000** girls like Farah and Zara to get to school and stay in school longer.
*Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of individuals.
**The figures in the study are taken from cross-consortium methodology, including enrolment records and internal logframes.