Fifty-one schools in Afghanistan have undergone a makeover. The quality of the facilities, education and teaching has improved immensely – as have enrolment and retention of girls.
KABUL, Afghanistan, 27 June 2013 – Mursal Tura dreams of being a successful businesswoman. Her interest lies in the garment industry. The 21-year-old university student hopes one day to be a leading fashion entrepreneur in Afghanistan.
She may look to a bright future, but Mursal does not have fond memories of her time in secondary school. On a visit to her old school, Rabia Balkhi school in downtown Kabul, the business accounting undergraduate recalls, “When I attended school, we had very poorly constructed classes. There was no playground. We didn’t have proper toilets – and, most importantly, I never felt like coming to school.”
“Look at the school now,” she marvels. “There are trees and shade everywhere. The school has a fully furnished and equipped science laboratory and library. There is a high boundary wall that secures the school and provides privacy to girls. The new classrooms are spacious and airy. I see happy and excited students playing and running around everywhere, a new beginning for girls to play freely in school.
“It’s so different from when I studied here a few years ago.”
Rabia Balkhi school is one of 51 schools that have undergone a complete makeover as part of the 1000 Classrooms Project. Funded by the Government of Japan, the project was implemented by the Ministry of Education with support from UNICEF, benefitting nearly 300,000 students in the city of Kabul.
Fifty-one per cent of these students are girls. As a result of this project, these students now have access to safe and child-friendly learning environments. The project, which took four years to complete, was designed to increase access and retention of students, especially of girls, in basic education and to improve the quality of education for children across Kabul.
All 51 schools received a ‘child friendly’ package of facilities, including separate toilets for boys and girls, water points, playgrounds, boundary walls with guard rooms, green areas, concrete pathways and 40 sets of student furniture per classroom. Nearly 3,000 teachers have been trained in child-centred participatory teaching and learning techniques to give them the skills they need to provide quality education to their students.
Providing “visible and tangible benefits”
UNICEF knows that providing a protective and salubrious environment – including boundary walls, water points and separate latrines for boys and girls – can result in significant improvements in enrolment rates and retention of girls in school. In addition, children who are enrolled in such schools serve as effective advocates for improved hygiene and sanitation in their own homes and communities.
“I believe we have shown that, if targeted and managed well, development assistance can produce outstanding results for the people of Afghanistan,” says UNICEF Afghanistan Representative Peter Crowley. “The Ministry of Education has, with the collaboration of UNICEF, been able to provide very visible and tangible benefits for tens of thousands of students, especially girls.”
According to Minister of Education His Excellency Farooq Wardak, “Education is more important than ever; not only for its role as a principal force for nation-building, but also for its impact on regional and global stability, growth and prosperity.”
Coasting past expected results
The 1000 Classrooms Project has not only met, but has also exceeded, original expectations. The generous funding by the Government of Japan has allowed more than the projected number of classrooms to be built, along with more toilets, more education staff trained and more children served.
The deficit of girls compared to boys in these schools has been addressed, and the marked improvement in quality of education provided has encouraged better attendance. Ambassador of Japan to Afghanistan Hiroshi Takahashi has expressed his happiness with the outcome of the project. “Development of human capital is one of the largest pillars of our assistance towards Afghanistan, as education is a motor for development and social inclusion,” he says.
Replacing stones with sport
Back at Rabia Balkhi School, Mursal shows us around the school campus, pointing towards the field where young girls enthusiastically play basketball and volleyball, something she could never have dreamed of when she was in school.
“During my time, this place was stacked with bricks and stones,” she says. “I remember our only option for recreation was sitting in class and talking with fellow students.”
When asked about the importance of training teachers as part of the 1000 Classrooms Project, Mursal, who plans to pursue a PhD, promptly responds, “Students spend most of their day in the school under the guidance of the teacher. If the teacher is well trained and knows how and what to teach, it will significantly influence the students.”
Inspired by the successful completion of the project and its impact on children, the Government of Japan is now funding the construction of 70 new schools in Afghanistan’s three central highland provinces of Bamiyan, Daikundi and Ghor. The Ministry of Education through the Provincial Education Directorates and with support from UNICEF has already started construction of these schools.
Story by Rajat Madhok