Attacks threaten girls’ schooling in Shindand

More than 1,500 female students have not attended classes for several days after unidentified assailants attacked their school in Shindand district in the western Afghan province of Herat, education officials told IRIN.

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[This article is also available as a radio report in Pashto and Dari]

On 19 October, at around midnight local time, several grenades were thrown inside Naswan High School, breaking windows and causing minor damage to several classrooms, said Ghulam Hazrat Tanha, director of the Herat education department.

Officials say some students are gradually returning to school but locals are concerned about their children’s education, particularly for girls.

“Recent attacks on schools have frightened many parents and students,” said Tanha, adding that local residents had demanded the authorities ensure students’ security at schools.

Since 8 October, four attacks on schools have been reported in the restive district, none of which harmed students or school staffers, according to Haji Shah Alaam, Shindand district governor.

Two of the schools belonged to girls, Alaam said.

In Afghanistan, high schools are segregated, while universities do not follow this rule.

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Shindand - with a majority of its population ethnically Pashtun - has been a hotbed of Taliban insurgency in the relatively calm Herat province.

Schools elsewhere in Herat, where the Taliban have a strong influence, have also experienced assaults.

Backtracking in Helmand

Meanwhile, education authorities in southern Helmand province gave warning about the shrinking numbers of functioning schools there.

In early October the director of Helmand’s education department told IRIN that more than 90 schools were functioning across the insurgency-torn province, while about 100 others, mainly in rural areas, were out of commission due to insecurity.

Three weeks later, officials say only 64 schools are open in Helmand - Afghanistan’s top opium-producing and most conflict-ridden province.

About 400 schools remain dysfunctional in southern Afghanistan, with tens of thousands of students deprived of education, concede officials in the Ministry of Education (MoE).

“Community schools and other local education facilities are closing down because of growing insecurity, Taliban attacks and lack of resources,” said Saeed Ibrar Agha, head of the provincial education department.

Immediately after the Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001, Afghanistan took significant strides in education and has increasingly admitted millions of students to formal schooling.

There are now more than six million students, 35 percent of them female, in over 11,000 schools and education facilities around the war-ravaged country, the MoE reported in 2007.

By 2020, boys and girls alike should be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, according to target number two of Afghanistan’s revised Millennium Development Goal.


Photo: Noorullah Stanikzai/IRIN
There are over six million students enrolled in over 11,000 schools in Afghanistan

Dormitories needed

As more and more students from insecure rural areas flock to schools in the provincial city, education officials complain about the lack of capacity to absorb all newcomers in Lashkargah, capital of Helmand.

Almost all the rural students coming to schools in Lashkargah are boys, local officials say. Students who commute daily between the provincial capital and their homes in rural districts are also exposed to the risk of being targeted by elements that oppose education.

Moreover, travel is an extra financial burden for already impoverished parents.

“We need to open a dormitory for students coming from rural areas to schools in Lashkargah,” said Ibrar Agha. “We look forward to donors to help us build one.”

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