HERAT -- A group of young female university graduates in Herat province have launched an application for online schooling for girls amid the existing ban on their education.
The online tool, dubbed Maktab, was developed by a group of computer science graduates at Herat University and was launched last week at the start of the school year.
Maktab is accessible on smartphones and can be downloaded for free from Apple Store and Google Play. It offers lessons in all subjects based on Afghanistan's secondary school curriculum
The purpose of launching Maktab was to ensure that girls would always have access to education, said Mariam Monib, the executive director of the online school programme.
"Our aim is to never let education for girls stop. This is an open school programme and will always be available for girls."
"Education materials are available in various formats, including video, audio and text. The app has a dashboard that allows private schools, educational institutions and other learning centres to upload their teaching materials," she said.
As many as 30,000 students follow the programme online and some 10,000 actively use its educational content, she said.
The number of followers, who are mostly girls, continues to increase daily, she added.
"We want to provide more education opportunities for girls. We are trying to expand the programme and plan to offer English language and computer science lessons" in the future, she added.
At the end of the school year, a certificate of completion will be issued to each student who has pursued the training courses, Monib said.
Filling a void
The programme aims to fill a void and to provide education opportunities for girls when schools and other education centres are closed to them, said Muzhda Paiman, a member of the online school team.
"Learning centres for face-to-face education have all remained closed for girls, and we wanted to find a solution to overcome the problem. We launched the online school programme so that girls who are deprived of school can study."
Online education is the best way to educate girls in the current situation, Paiman said, urging the international community to use its influence to re-open schools for Afghan girls.
The purpose of the programme was to "give hope to girls who are deprived of schooling so they would not feel disappointed anymore", Fatima Rezaie, another member of the online school team, said.
Now more than ever, "women need support and motivation so that they can continue to study", she said.
Online programmes have brought school to girls' homes and have been very effective, said Khadija Mokhtarzada, a lecturer at Herat University.
"Launching the school app is a very good initiative, and it allows girls to increase their knowledge and stay connected with books. It is indeed a form of fighting the restrictions," she added.
"The time has come to turn our homes into schools. In the current situation, no one can prevent anyone from seeking knowledge," she said.
Girls who live in the same neighbourhood and have access to the online school programme can study together and share learning materials with each other, she said.
Hope for girls
Sana Afzali, 16, an 11th-grade student in Herat city, said she joined the online school on March 20.
The programme will revive hope among girls and will have a positive effect on girls' education, she told Salaam Times on March 27.
"The online school programme has filled the gap created by the closure of schools for girls," she said, adding that "most girls have access to the internet and can easily take online classes".
Still, "we hope that our schools will open soon. The academic year has started, and we should not waste any more time," she said.
There is no logical reason to suggest schools should remain closed for girls, said Sana.
Sama Hasanzada, 15, a 10th-grade student in Herat city, said she has joined the online school programme with much enthusiasm and hopes to resume her studies like before.
"Schools have been closed to us, and we are deprived of face-to-face education. The online school programme is a new initiative available to girls where we can communicate and share our knowledge with each other," she added.
"We were hoping to go back to school [this year], but schools have remained closed and our dreams were shattered once again," she said.
The online school programme has become a reasonable substitute for in-person schooling and has created a sense of hope among girls, she said.