KUNDUZ -- Some 14,000 girls and boys who were forced to take classes under tents because of ongoing insecurity and Taliban destruction of schools will be able to study in physical classrooms now that the construction of 15 school buildings is complete, Sar-e-Pul education officials say.
This development means 90% of the province's schools are ready for use.
The construction projects, launched in the start of the current solar (Afghan) year, took around 10 months to complete, and included seven high schools, two middle schools, two elementary schools, and two administrative buildings.
Mohammad Khan Bekzad, Sar-e-Pul province's education director, said the project, implemented in Sar-e-Pul city, Balkhab, Sayad, and Sancharak districts, cost AFN a total of 260 million (around $3.3 million).
"With the completion of these projects, 14,000 male and female students who used to study under tents and shades of trees now have access to equipped classrooms," Bekzad told Salaam Times.
He said the construction of 13 buildings was funded by the Afghan Ministry of Education, and two by India.
"Efforts are also underway to improve education quality and conditions, to develop teachers' skills, and build 20 more schools," Bekzad added.
Taliban torch schools, restrict girls' eduction
With support from the international community, the Afghan government works to build and maintain school buildings for students, but the Taliban, in many cases, either destroy them or use them to store weapons and bombs.
The Taliban torched a girls' school in Sar-e-Pul province's Balkhab district on November 27, 2020, which burned the school building's roof and some equipment.
Prior to that in July, the Taliban torched the building of a high school in Taloqan city, the provincial capital of Takhar, amid an attack on Afghan forces.
Education officials in Takhar said all education materials and equipment burned in the incident.
Zabiullah Amani, spokesman for the Sar-e-Pul governor, accused the Taliban of deliberately destroying schools, and said the group would prefer Afghanistan's future generation to be illiterate.
"Fortunately, most of our schools are open to students, but in some districts, a number of schools are threatened by the Taliban. We are trying to resolve the issue with the cooperation of local elders," Amani said.
Out of fear, families in Taliban-controlled areas do not send their girls to school, said Mohmmad Noor Rahmani, chief of the Sar-e-Pul provincial council.
"Unfortunately, Taliban's views towards education have not changed, and this poses challenges to education efforts in Kohistanat, Sozma Qala, Sayad, Sancharak, and the outskirts of the provincial capital," he said.
The Taliban do not allow girls in these areas to study beyond grade 6, he said.
Atila Noori, director of Sar-e-Pul province's civil society network, said in Kohistanat district and other areas of the province, 4,000 to 5,000 girls in grades 6 to 12 have been deprived of an education in the past three years.
"We have repeatedly called on the Taliban to allow these girls to get education, but they have ignored the people's demand," Noori said.
Sar-e-Pul province has over 400 schools and 40% of its students are girls.
Describing this as greatly damaging to girls, Nabila Habibi, director of women’s affairs for Sar-e-Pul province, said, "In areas under Taliban’s control, we can do nothing except hope for peace."
"Girls cannot study or make decisions. They do not have the right to get married or leave the house without a male companion in areas under Taliban control," she said.
Concerns over Taliban return to power
Women’s rights and civil society activists in Sar-e-Pul province expressed concerns about the Taliban’s return to power and the possibility of more restrictions on women.
"Our red lines remain unchanged in the event of any political change in Afghanistan," warned Zarmina Atae, a women’s rights activist in Sar-e-Pul.
"[The] Right to education and employment in society for women and girls are among those red lines," she added.
"Our demand from both negotiating parties is that they give women all the rights and freedom granted to them by Islam after the conclusion of the peace talks. Our demand is not illegitimate; it is our right to study and participate in social and economic activities outside the house," said Masooma Mohammadi, a resident of the provincial capital of Sar-e-Pul.