After the Taliban announced changes to the education curriculum and the formation of committees for this task, many began to question the utility of education under the Taliban regime. Initially, doubts arose due to the Taliban’s historical stance. During their first emirate, they closed schools and educational centers to girls and many boys, while female teachers were forced to stay at home, and the Taliban focused on building madrasas. These doubts were particularly prominent in areas under Taliban control at the end of the previous government, where schools were set on fire and exploded to discourage modern education.
Moreover, these concerns were exacerbated by events in Doha, where an extensive advertisement emphasized the Taliban’s supposed transformation and sought promises from the group’s negotiators regarding the protection of Afghan people’s human rights. Now, as we approach two years of denying girls access to education, these questions are raised more urgently. People are now asking: Can education with a Taliban-curated curriculum and Taliban teachers still be beneficial? Is closing the doors to schools and universities more detrimental than leaving them open?
In a society other than Afghanistan under Taliban control, these questions would be irrelevant and unnecessary. Education is universally valued, essential, and obligatory worldwide, serving as the bedrock of development. Therefore, there is no need to weigh its pros and cons. Across the globe, the right to education is universally recognized and respected. The idea that individuals lack the right to learn has only found a foothold on an isolated island called Afghanistan.
In today’s Afghanistan, where the Taliban hold sway over all aspects of life, these questions become pressing. The Taliban have infused education with their ideological agenda, continually seeking to radicalize it and distort the pursuit of knowledge. As education becomes a tool for their extremist beliefs, it infiltrates households, targeting the younger generation. In this context, a meaningful question arises: which poses a greater threat to the country, an illiterate generation or an extremist, potentially terrorist generation? In such circumstances, the value of education diminishes, and people contemplate which path is less detrimental.
Prior to the Taliban’s return to power, certain assurances had been made to this group. As a result, the Taliban regarded themselves as the future rulers of the country and began formulating plans to impose their ideology on society from that point onward. They had concluded that their initial regime had collapsed because the broader society did not back their cause. The swift defeat of this group came at the hands of America’s B-52 strikes, the Northern Alliance, and other armed forces opposing the Taliban. The ordinary citizens of Afghanistan also held no affinity for the Taliban; in fact, they harbored strong resentment towards the group, leading to a lack of support.
These factors played a pivotal role in the swift downfall of the Taliban, a fact also acknowledged by the group itself. To avoid a repeat of such a rapid collapse and ensure a more enduring presence, they have adopted a long-term strategy: the “Talibanization” of society. This strategy is being executed through media and educational institutions. Notably, visual media, which were once deemed symbols of evil and blasphemy during the first Taliban rule and were destroyed, are now being harnessed extensively by the Taliban to implement this strategy. Between their first and second emirates, the sanctity of capturing “live” images has been compromised, and previously prohibited actions have become permissible while formerly permissible actions have been prohibited.
Hence, right from the outset, they established a committee to revise the curriculum, aiming to reintroduce themes of “blood and violence” into the textbooks, thereby making education more extreme and aggressive. As reported by the Hasht-e Subh Daily, the committee completed its work in December 2020 and presented its report to the Taliban leadership. You can find a detailed account of the proposed content for the Taliban curriculum here.
During their first rule, the Taliban recognized their lack of support from society, prompting them to take smaller-scale actions that proved ineffective. Waheed Muzhda, who served as the foreign ministry’s representative during the first Taliban emirate, details in his book: “Mullah Amir Khan Muttaqi, the former Minister of Education and current Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Taliban, established a large madrasa known as ‘Farooqiyya’ within the social science faculty adjacent to Kabul Polytechnic. He appointed a Pakistani individual as the headmaster to implement a teaching approach resembling that of Pakistani schools” (Afghanistan and Five Years of Taliban Rule, p. 115).
The teaching style in Pakistani madrasas combines religious studies with guerrilla warfare tactics, and the Taliban expected Afghan religious schools to follow a similar path.
Muzhda goes on to explain, “Focusing on religious schools and constructing madrasas served a primary objective: training Taliban members for warfare. As American threats to attack Afghanistan loomed, they called upon students from the Farooqiyya madrasa to join the front lines. Students left the madrasas, and chaos ensued.” (Same source) A madrasa failing to prepare fighters willing to sacrifice themselves and an educational institution not producing suicide bombers wouldn’t align with the Taliban’s objectives.
This group garners support in a society where modern, non-ideological education is absent, and where both men and women can freely access education and express their thoughts. A society stripped of democratic influences, where educated individuals graduate from Taliban-run madrasas with a Taliban curriculum, may, to some extent, align with this group.
Hence, the Taliban have placed their extremist mullahs in roles as university presidents, vice presidents, and even professors. They persistently endeavor to indoctrinate students with extremism and a Taliban ideology. On September 18, they organized a competition at Herat University titled “Understanding the Emirate,” which some young students participated in. It is challenging to fathom someone openly describing the Taliban’s Emirate due to the fear of potential repercussions, even within such a contest.
If the contest were to inquire about the Taliban’s stance on education, students likely feel compelled to assert that the Taliban vigorously upholds and supports the right to education, including the education of girls, albeit often with an “Islamic” qualifier. Consequently, what is taught by Taliban professors in universities lacks intellectual integrity. An education system that stifles the expression of objective facts ceases to be a true science; rather, it becomes anti-science. A place where individuals learn about the concept of “Emirate” but cannot freely discuss the “real Emirate” in response to a question cannot rightly be called a university.
Nowadays, not only are girls beyond the sixth grade entirely denied access to education, but many boys are also unable to exercise this right due to various factors, primarily poverty. Fortunately, those boys fortunate enough to attend universities can still find solace because, as of now, the educational curriculum in universities and schools hasn’t been fully subjected to Talibanization and ideological indoctrination. Moreover, a considerable number of professors who remain devoted to education and the pursuit of knowledge continue to teach in these institutions, having not yet undergone complete ideological transformation.
Nevertheless, there’s little indication that the Taliban will cease their efforts to further ideologize educational curricula in universities and schools. If this group persists in implementing its strategy of Talibanization and radicalization of society, we must earnestly consider the questions raised at the outset of this article. In such a scenario, the debate on whether education under Taliban rule can still yield benefits or not should intensify, and a comprehensive analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of such education should be conducted.