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Afghanistan's schoolgirls lose

Girls' schools become the losers when the aid crowns disappear. It predicts Ehsanulla Ehsan, the founder of one of the most successful women's education projects in Afghanistan.


This week, Afghanistan Week is being held for the second time. The event is under the auspices of the Afghanistan Committee and has contributors such as Christian Michelsen's Institute (CMI) and the Institute for Peace Research (PRIO), and brings together around forty researchers, politicians and experts from Afghanistan, Norway and other countries. Prominent figures such as journalist and analyst Kate Clark, human rights activist Horia Mosadiq and Minister of Defense Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide will take part in debates about Afghanistan's future. During the week, the discussions will be about what the main challenges the country is facing now, and how the international community can support Afghanistan. A seminar on education will be held on Wednesday 25 March. In this connection, Ehsanulla Ehsan visits Oslo to participate as one of the speakers at the seminar. Ehsan is the founder of the Kandahar Institute for Modern Studies in Afghanistan's second largest city. The institute, which was founded in 2006 with the help of Canadian authorities, is a school primarily for women aged 16 and up, and offers education in administration and management, accounting, communication, digital skills and English. The school is noticeably untraditional in Kandahar, where women are rarely allowed to leave the house without being accompanied by a man. The women who complete their studies at the department are happy to find work in non-profit organizations, or they receive scholarships to study further either in Afghanistan or abroad. Success with shadow side. The Kandahar Institute has been highlighted as a sunshine story. For cheap money, women in Kandahar can get an education there. It costs only one dollar a month to be a student at the department, and thus people from several walks of life meet there. As of November 2014, the Afghan school project was able to report that 600 students from the Kandahar Institute have found work in local, national and multinational organizations after finishing school. Ehsanulla Ehsan answers both yes and no to the question of whether the school is a success: "The ads in the media tell me that it is a success story, but it can be short-lived." After Western countries have gradually withdrawn from Afghanistan, civilian aid is slowly but surely drying up. Ehsan fears that it is precisely areas such as education for women that will only be affected when international support disappears. Afghanistan is completely dependent on international aid. The government is struggling to get its economy back on track after ten years of war. When Canadian troops withdrew from the country in 2011, aid responsibility fell on the United States. But support from there stopped in 2013. The Kandahar Institute has since survived on private donations, but had to cut back on school projects that were not directly vocational, such as kitchen gardening and crafts. Ehsan warns that Afghanistan is a divided problem: "If the international community withdraws now, extremism will emerge in a short time. It is a threat, not only to Afghanistan, but to the whole world, "said Ehsan. Acceptance for education. Ehsan is concerned that the benefits of education for women are not just financial: "The fact that these women receive education changes the attitudes of entire families," he says. Families who previously did not allow their children to watch television have now had daughters with computer skills. "Suddenly doors open for them, and they get the opportunity for views and wider insight. Afghanistan needs that, "Ehsan said. The work of creating acceptance for the institute has taken a long time, but now Ehsan believes that he sees a change in attitude. Ehsan himself has been threatened with death, both in letter form and in more direct ways. Nevertheless, the school has won the trust of the local community through meetings with leaders and other decision-makers. "There are high expectations that education will provide more work. "Women see that others get jobs after going to the Kandahar Institute, and they want to go there themselves, get a job and do good for themselves," says Ehsan. The institute follows Islamic ideology, and on the walls of the school are painted verse lines from the Koran that deal with the importance of education. These show the institute's leadership to the skeptics to convince them that what the women are learning is well within the framework of Islam. In 2014, the school bus, full of students, was attacked by a group critical of the school. They threw stones at the bus, and several of the students were injured. After this incident, the school management approached religious leaders and local authorities, and together they got the stone-throwers to visit the school. "Many people have prejudices against school that are not true, but we show them, for example, that women cover up," says Ehsan. Quality Learning. Ehsan is concerned that the Kandahar Institute should offer quality learning to its students. He is concerned that the public primary schools in the country are counting too much, and to a lesser extent the pupils offer good enough teachers.

"The lack of a Minister of Education makes development aid work difficult" Magnussønn Watterdal

Today's levels of education in Afghanistan are high compared to pre-US invasion figures. Under the Taliban regime in the period 1996–2001, almost no girls had access to education. UNICEF now estimates that 40 per cent of Afghan girls and 66 per cent of Afghan boys receive primary education. The Afghan education system stipulates that all children must complete 12 years of schooling. Nevertheless, only 20 per cent of the girls and 40 per cent of the boys complete the educational race. Many girls are dropped out of school as they approach puberty. "Thus, all the efforts that have been made to give girls an education are useless," says Ehsan. But what worries the principal most is that the quality of learning is weak. According to Terje Magnussønn Watterdal of the Afghanistan Committee, one of the other speakers at the seminar on education during Afghanistan Week, the quality of Afghan teachers is not good enough: "Students who can hardly read and write are admitted to teacher training," he says. If the school only has male teachers, the chances are greater that the girls will disappear. But there is a shortage of female teachers, and it is very difficult to send the few that exist to rural areas, where they are needed most. Power Struggles. The Kandahar Institute also conducts training in general civilian skills, such as the ability to orient oneself before going to the polls, to know what kind of rights one has, and civic participation at the societal and political level. One of Ehsan's heart issues is to train such skills in the national curriculum: "Unfortunately, this is a field that is overshadowed by the government's ongoing power struggle," he believes. The Afghan government has evolved into what Ehsan describes as a "two-headed monster." The so-called unity government, in which power is divided between Abdullah Abdullah of the Afghan National Coalition and Ashraf Ghani of the Independence Party, has not yet managed to form a full government, one year after the election. The post of Minister of Education has been empty for just as long. It is a major challenge in a country as top- and detail-governed as Afghanistan, according to Watterdal in the Afghanistan Committee: "The lack of an education minister complicates aid work, and many Afghan teachers are left demotivated without having been paid salaries." Nevertheless, Watterdal believes that there is a great will to get more people in education both among politicians and in the population. In the most war-torn regions of Afghanistan, it is difficult to enter into dialogue with the opposition groups on support for education. But through local leaders, it is possible to conduct advocacy work. "It helps! At one of the midwifery schools they were to fill fifty places. There were as many as 500 applicants. Girls want an education, and there is a growing acceptance to give them access to it, "says Watterdal.

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