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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 17:31 GMT
Afghan women embrace new prospects
Aspiring students wait in front of the Kabul University
Girls wait nervously for their names to be read out
Marcus George

Bashira sat in the dark hall, hunched over an exam paper.

Her brow was furrowed as she intently read the questions and worked on the answers. She fended off the cold by wearing mittens and a light blanket around her.


There were courses over the last few years but my family didn't want me to take the risk of studying at that time

Khaldah, aspiring student
Row after row of bowed heads and buzzing brains were lined up next to the library bookshelves.

These were the books they hoped to be studying in one month's time.

The freezing building - usually the central library of Kabul University- was hosting more than 500 aspiring students sitting the annual entrance exam.

Herculean test

As exams go, this was an epic - four hours of answering questions on at least six subjects, from biology and mathematics to history and language.

Bashira sits the entrance exam
Bashira said the exam went really well

A high mark would ensure more choice in studies, with medical studies ranking the most prestigious, followed by engineering and political sciences.

The day was already several hours old. For two hours the first female returnees to Kabul University had been waiting nervously in the biting cold for their names to be read out.

Many of these girls, barred from education for the last five years under the Taleban rule, were worried about the outcome of the Herculean test before them.


It is where the next generation will be educated where our future leaders and political figures will learn their skills

Dr Aziz Ahmad Rahman

"I haven't prepared at all for the exam," Khaldah said, almost feverishly.

"There were courses over the last few years but my family didn't want me to take the risk of studying at that time.

"I'm really worried because I don't think I'm going to pass. I'll just have to wait and see," she said.

Opportunity arrives

Even Bashira, who had studied solidly for the last month, had doubts about whether she would succeed to get the place in medical college she so desperately wanted.

Kabul University sign in English, though the foreign students are long gone
Kabul University once rivalled Europe's best, but today lies in ruins

"I'm a bit stressed about it. I don't think I studied enough. It's so difficult for girls to return to education after five years.

The 24-year-old left school in 1996 and was planning on going to university the following year. But her plans were interrupted by the arrival of the Taleban in Kabul.

Now, after marriage and the birth of her first child, the opportunity has finally arrived.

Within three weeks, thousands of successful examinees will return in earnest to begin their university education, and a new start.

No deterrent

Decades ago Kabul University, boasting facilities to rival European universities, was one of the most prestigious academic institutions in Asia, attracting students from all over the Muslim world.


Hopefully I'll be starting university this month and, God willing, one day I'll be a doctor

Bashira, aspiring student
Today, the vast complex lies in ruins - its hall of residence destroyed by rocket fire and neglect, its classrooms looted and used as toilets. And the foreign students are long gone.

But this is no deterrent to the 12,000 students who are due to enrol to continue their education in a new era and under a new government.

"Its vital to rebuild this university because it is where the next generation will be educated where our future leaders and political figures will learn their skills," said the director of social sciences faculty, Dr Aziz Ahmad Rahman.

Girls sit the entrance exam
Deans say the university is open to people from all over Afghanistan
"This university is open to people from all over Afghanistan. I hope in the future it will become the symbol of national unity in Afghanistan".

As hundreds of girls poured out of the exam room, Bashira's face glowed with relief and content. The burden which had weighed her down for the previous weeks had gone.

"It went really well. I was able to answer a lot of questions and I felt good about my answers," she said. "The questions really weren't that difficult."

"Hopefully I'll be starting university this month and, God willing, one day I'll be a doctor."

See also:

06 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghan women return to study
19 Dec 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Studying history at Kabul University
06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Tunes of hope at Kabul University
13 Nov 01 | South Asia
Afghan women find new freedom
29 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul studies uncertain future
06 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghan leader says US bombed civilians
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