Afghan children brave risks for record school year

KABUL – Nearly 150 students and teachers have been killed and nearly 100 schools burnt down in Afghanistan in the last 10 months, the education ministry said on Tuesday, but more children than ever are attending classes.

Since the Taliban relaunched their insurgency two years ago, schools, teachers and students have become a target in the militants’ campaign to undermine faith in the ability of pro-Western President Hamid Karzai and foreign troops to bring security.

But in the current year, some 800,000 students have enrolled bringing the total number in education to 5.7 million, the education ministry said.

The Taliban banned women from working outside the home and banned girls from attending school but there are now more girls in school than there were boys studying during that period.

“I am so happy that millions of children go to school,” Karzai told a conference of education donors. But, “the basis of education is still very weak,” he said.

“There are millions of children who study in tents in the rain and in some parts of the country schools do not even exist,” Karzai said. “In several provinces of Afghanistan, at least 300,000 students cannot go to school.”

In the past 10 months, 147 teachers and students have been killed and 98 schools burnt down, the ministry said. Fifty-two boys and five teachers were among 72 killed in a single suicide bomb attack in northern Afghanistan on November 6 last year.

The ministry also warned that “the lack of access to modern Islamic education has led to boys being sent to study in unregulated madrasas that propagate hatred and violence and breed terrorism”.

In a country ripped apart by 30 years of civil war, education has suffered particularly badly. Of 31 million Afghans, an estimated 11 million are illiterate.

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