Notes from the Field

Kabul’s Lama-e-Shaheed Girls’ High School Named Best School in District

March 1, 2011

Years of fighting, followed by five years of Taliban rule when girls were banned from attending school, left Afghanistan with one of the lowest female literacy rates in the world. Only 12-15 percent of Afghan women can read and write. Since the Taliban were expelled from the country in 2001, the Afghan government, with assistance from the international community, has made a huge effort to enroll all children in school. In fact, respondents in The Asia Foundation’s latest Survey of the Afghan People cited the reopening of girls’ schools as one of the main reasons for optimism throughout the country.

Afghan girls' school

The Afghan Ministry of Education’s statistics show that 20 girls' schools were bombed or burned down between March and October 2010, including Lama-e-Shaheed Girls' School, above.

This effort is hindered, however, by the fact that the government of Afghanistan lacks adequate resources to restore and rehabilitate schools that have been severely damaged by violent conflict or simple neglect. Given that all girls’ schools were closed throughout the Taliban years, and many areas of Afghanistan, including large sections of Kabul, have endured heavy fighting, a number of facilities were virtually destroyed. Few would argue that improvements have been made in women’s rights in the last decade. On a recent visit to the United Kingdom, Afghanistan’s minister for women’s affairs outlined the progress made: 57 percent of women and girls now go to school and 24 percent of health sector workers and 10 percent of the judiciary are female. But, there are still enormous challenges concerning girls’ education. The Afghan Ministry of Education’s statistics show that 20 girls’ schools were bombed or burned down between March and October 2010. At least 126 students and teachers were killed in the same period – an increase over the previous year. Meanwhile, night letters – missives containing terrifying threats – are still being sent to working women in Taliban-controlled areas. In most of the more conservative rural areas, parents still don’t send their daughters to school, either due to security concerns or social and economic obstacles.

But it is important to celebrate individual signs of progress in girls’ education. For example, take Lama-e-Shaheed Girls’ High School in the Macrorayona District on the outskirts of Kabul, one of the Afghan capital’s most densely populated areas.

With approximately 4,500 girls in 12 different grades taught by 155 teachers, the school needed critical upgrades to the severely damaged physical facility and infrastructure in order to improve the quality of education for its students. In March 2010, The Asia Foundation, in consultation with the Afghan Ministry of Education, identified the school as one in critical need of assistance. Over the next six months, with funding from the Ketcham Family Foundation, we repaired the school roof, provided additional indoor classrooms and weather-resistant external classrooms, and improved basic conditions at the school, such as repairing and installing working toilets and doors. These achievements, particularly the conversion of the gymnasium into a fully functioning, weather-proof conference hall used for the training of students and teachers, monthly parent-faculty meetings, and weekly meetings of all school administrators in Education District 16 not only benefited the school’s student and teacher population, but supported education more generally as none of the other six schools in the area have the meeting facilities that now exist at Lama-e-Shaheed.

In recognition of its efforts, Lama-e-Shaheed Girls’ High School was recently named the best school in its district by the Ministry of Education for its outstanding implementation of required teaching methods, and has promised to build a new block of 16 classrooms at the school. Now, Lama-e-Shaheed’s students have the country’s highest pass rate for the national university entrance examination, 85 percent, and for the last several years, the students have ranked within the top three scores for the entire country among all test takers, male and female.

The success of the Lama-e-Shaheed in educating 4,500 girls, with many of them going on to university and also serving in many leadership roles in their communities, within their families, and in the workplace, provides a ray of hope for Afghanistan’s development.

Zarlasht Waziry is The Asia Foundation’s senior program officer in Afghanistan. She can be reached at zwaziry@asiafound.org.

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