Widespread Promotion of Extremism: Students Concerned about the Future of Education in Afghanistan

By: Amin Kawa

The Taliban have not only closed girls’ schools above the sixth grade, but they have also disrupted the teaching process in boys’ schools. According to student reports, the Ministry of Education, which is controlled by the Taliban, has hired individuals with no teaching experience or adequate knowledge of science subjects to replace female teachers in some schools. As a result, male students are feeling pessimistic about their future. They express a decrease in their interest in education and concern over the Taliban’s influence on their educational institutions. Teachers also believe that the exclusion of girls from higher education has negatively impacted the morale of male students. Consequently, some students have resorted to hard labor, while others are contemplating leaving the country.

The resurgence of the Taliban and the introduction of extremist religious schools have resulted in the radicalization of educational institutions. Girls are still barred from attending schools above the sixth grade, and boys’ schools have encountered multiple challenges due to the confinement of female teachers within their homes. The Taliban’s Modern School Curriculum Review Committee is actively revising textbooks to conform to their ideology. Consequently, these factors have significantly diminished students’ aspirations to pursue further education.

Uninterested Students with Families Preferring Religious Schools

The Talibanization of educational institutions has led to significant disillusionment among students, greatly impacting their motivation to continue their studies. According to these students, some families have shown a preference for enrolling their sons in religious schools instead of regular ones, which has had a detrimental effect on both students’ morale and the overall state of education. Milad, an eleventh-grade student in a school in Kabul, expressed his concerns to the Hasht-e Subh Daily, stating, “There are no lessons delivered, no interest. It’s complete chaos. The teachers lack enthusiasm, and the students have lost their passion for learning. We have been studying under these circumstances for two years. Previously, most of our teachers were women. Now, they have been replaced by individuals who have never pursued education in their lives. There has been a surge in religious propaganda, and the influence and power of religious teachers have grown. I am considering leaving the country because I believe nothing will improve here. It is better to forgo education than to become a ‘Talib.’ The situation is deeply disheartening, and some of our classmates have completely dropped out of school.”

Fariborz Nekooyi, another student, expresses grave concerns about the future of education in the country. In an interview with the Hasht-e Subh Daily, he shares his complete loss of faith in education under Taliban rule. According to Nekooyi, one’s environment shapes them, and unfortunately, the current environment has been Talibanized. He observes that fear has driven people to become supporters of the Taliban, leading to a pervasive sense of Talibanization. Nekooyi further remarks that discipline, which was once present in schools, has diminished, as now everyone wears casual attire, blurring the distinction between teachers and students. He emphasizes that the implementation of the “Mullah System” has fostered a pervasive atmosphere of despair, and they are weary of enduring such conditions.

He further states, “This year, I’m in twelfth grade, but I haven’t truly studied for several years. First, there was a year of the pandemic, then the Taliban arrived, and now everything revolves around the Taliban and an uncertain future. To be honest, I have lost all interest in studying. According to one of our teachers, we merely show up for the sake of attendance. It’s truly disheartening. I feel a sense of guilt, but there is no genuine learning taking place. Even the teachers lack enthusiasm for teaching. It’s an indescribable environment – devoid of respect between teachers and students, complete chaos. One cannot focus on studying with a calm mind. When the teachers see us and our situation, they don’t have the heart to teach. Many of our classmates spend class hours playing Ludo.”

Teachers: Restrictions have Affected Students

Alongside these students, their teachers are also confronting numerous challenges. In discussions with the Hasht-e Subh Daily, some teachers express their frustration with the growing number of subjects in the curriculum and the oppressive atmosphere. These teachers note that students, compared to the past, exhibit reduced enthusiasm for studying and education. Additionally, many students with good physical abilities have resorted to engaging in hard labor.

In an interview with the Hasht-e Subh Daily, Lena Haidari, a teacher in western Afghanistan, reveals that the country’s uncertain future has instilled skepticism among students regarding the significance and role of education. According to Ms. Haidari, students lack optimism about attaining value and status through knowledge acquisition. She firmly believes that the exclusion of girls from education impacts both the learning process and the motivation of boys in schools. Haidari stresses that the uncertain prospects faced by female students have also diminished the motivation of boys to pursue their studies.

According to her, male students are currently facing various challenges, such as economic difficulties that force them into labor or lead them to drop out of school. Some students are opting for migration, while others are affected by changes in class schedules, reducing the number of sessions from three to two. Additionally, school hours have been extended. She noted that only a few subjects previously taught by female teachers have been retained, as a male teacher now handles a complete set of classes consisting of sixteen subjects.

Regarding the employment of experienced teachers instead of women, Lena Haidari remarked, “It is only natural for a teacher to align with their subject of study and academic background. However, Afghanistan’s educational system does not prioritize merit, competence, academic background, and field of study in the recruitment and acceptance of teachers. Some schools have an imbalance in the number of female and male teachers. Teachers often face the challenge of teaching outside their field of study. Insufficient preparation for the assigned subjects, increased teaching hours, larger class sizes surpassing approved standards, lack of teaching experience in specific subjects, absence of textbooks, the appointment of unqualified individuals in school administration, lack of awareness regarding administrative and educational regulations in handling undesirable situations – these are significant issues within the country’s education system.”

Ahmad (pseudonym), a teacher in a private school in Kabul City, expressed his concerns in an interview with the Hasht-e Subh Daily. He highlighted the significant decline in students’ interest in studying, while teachers struggle to make ends meet. According to him, it is challenging to motivate students to pursue education and prepare themselves for serving their country when they perceive that expertise is not valued in the Taliban-led government. Ahmad further remarked, “Everything is uncertain. Despite our efforts to maintain a positive outlook on the future, the prevailing conditions indicate the absence of a bright future; instead, it appears to be a dark one. If a private school is facing these difficulties, one can imagine the situation in government schools.”

Ahmad expressed deep concern about the influence of the Taliban on education, highlighting the separation of girls’ classes from boys’ classes as directed by the Ministry of Education under Taliban control. He exclaimed, “Imagine this! They separate the class of 5-year-old boys from the class of 5-year-old girls, claiming it’s a threat to Islam! These so-called authorities, who are supposed to have knowledge of religious teachings, emitted such a repugnant odor that filled the entire corridor! They come, take away books and computers, and ask students about concepts like input and output. They ask whatever comes to their minds. I don’t even know what to complain about or what to say. Witnessing this situation is incredibly distressing. Three months ago, at the age of 31, I noticed that both sides of my beard had turned white. The only explanation for this distress and heartache is the dire circumstances people, especially students in these schools, find themselves in.”

Former officials of the Ministry of Education in Balkh province recently expressed concerns about the impact of the Taliban on education in the region. One of these officials, in an interview with the Hasht-e Subh Daily, revealed that families in Balkh province are anxious about the integration of religious schools with regular schools. They fear that the education budget will be depleted by the construction of these religious schools. Moreover, on Monday, May 29, the Taliban’s governor’s office in Balkh province announced the construction of one religious school per week in the province. It is important to note that, in addition to these actions, the Taliban have also terminated the employment of several female teachers in Kabul, further exacerbating the current challenges faced by the country.