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The BBC's Kate Clark
"In the eyes of many mullahs, secular schooling led to decadence and immorality"
 real 28k

Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
Afghanistan's bleak education record
These children are among the few who attend school
By Kate Clark in Kabul

Afghanistan has one of the worst records on education in the world.

Childrens fund Unicef estimates that only 4 - 5% of primary aged children get a broad based schooling, and for secondary and higher education the picture is even bleaker.

Education has always been weak outside the cities, but Kabul used to boast a university attracting scholars from India and the Middle East.

School is like a treasure

Afghan schoolboy

Twenty years of war has meant the collapse of everything.

Both sides in the long running civil war prefer to spend money on fighting. One school near Kabul survives through development agency aid and local community support.

"These children are very lucky to have a school" says teacher Bilal Mohammed.

"When they go to other villages, they wear their pens in their shirt pockets, to show off the fact they go to school."

Bilal Mohammed: "Education is a must in Islam"

Islamic law

Strict Islamic law was imposed in Afghanistan when the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996.

Since then, religious education has become increasingly emphasised at the expense of other subjects.

But in villages far from central control, children learn reading, writing and maths as well as Islam.

"Before the school opened, I was looking after my father's sheep. School's like a treasure", said one child in Pashtu.

Kabul University
Kabul university once attracted many students

At this school, girls attend as normal. But in Kabul and other cities, the Taliban shut down girls' schools. Like other female workers, they sent women teachers home.

Girls' schools return

Gradually though, growing numbers of girls are getting an education. At first, girls studied secretly in teachers' homes, under constant fear that these home schools would also be closed down.

Afghan children have experienced years of war

But over time, confidence has grown and now there are some substantial girls' schools in Kabul. The Taliban turn a blind eye to these schools. They're unofficial, receive no state support, but are allowed to run for the moment.

The standard alphabet text book in these Afghan schools was introduced not by the Taliban, but the mujaheddin, with help from an American university.

Twenty years of war
1979: Russia invades Afghanistan

1989: Russians withdraw, after bloody guerilla war

1991: Mujaheddin factions fight each other for control of Kabul

1996: Taliban movement captures Kabul and declares strict Islamic law

In the eyes of many mullahs, secular schooling leads to decadence, immorality, and too much freedom for women and girls.

However, the desire for schooling runs deep in Afghanistan, even among the uneducated. But the chances of getting a decent education are very slim.

A whole generation of children is losing out,
prompting questions about where this leaves the future of this devastated country.

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