Gender and Education: A Look at an Afghan Teacher’s Life

This interview was conducted by and is courtesy of UNESCO’s Education for All Global Monitoring Report team. Later this week we will be delving into the Education for All Global Monitoring Report Gender summary to bring out facts about girls and education across the globe.

We are happy to join UNESCO’s #TeacherTuesday campaign – a ten week journey around the world to get a glimpse of teaching from the voices of teachers themselves. The second honored teacher is Nahida, a teacher from Afghanistan. This is her story.

I’m Nahida and have been a teacher since 1989. It was my family’s desire for me to become a teacher when I graduated from Kabul University.

I wanted to work in the foreign Ministry but Afghanistan is a religious country and for woman it is difficult to go and work in the foreign ministry and be a diplomat in a foreign country so my family wanted me to start as a teacher and work with the children.  I continued teaching enthusiastically for my students for three years in a primary school for small children – boys and girls.

After that time, after three years, I became the headmistress, then head of a high school. After 12 years I was given the post of principal at the High School of Kabul. In Kabul city there are more female teachers [than in most areas].

The management in leading a school is a difficult task, especially in Afghanistan. On a normal day at 6 o’clock in the morning I go to school and start my job as a principal. My school works in two shifts – one shift for the morning, and one for the afternoon.  I line-up all of the students in my school, all female, and I say hello to all my students in the line.  All the students say hello to me then they sing the national anthem. And then recite the holy Koran.

After that I give a small speech for one or two or three minutes then the students, teachers and I direct the students to class. The lessons then start. Daily that’s my habit and usually I control two classes in each shift.  I also monitor the teaching process of teachers in their classes. Morning shift ends at 12 o’clock. Every shift is six lots of 45 minutes with two intervals.

My school is a standard school which is supported by the French government. In each class we have 35 students.  In Afghanistan, even in Kabul, in other schools it is standard to have up to 50-70 students in each class, but in my school it is standard only 30-55 students in each class.

I traveled to different countries like Japan, UK, Germany, South Korea, India and later to Pakistan for training. Only some teachers in Afghanistan study abroad. I am among a small number of teachers who has travelled a lot to other countries. The Education Ministry gave me the chance to go abroad and take workshops in education and management, teaching methods. I still receive training from the British Council who gives special training for those teaching in girls’ schools.

When I was principal of the high school, the Government of Germany gave training to the teachers in my school. Now my school is supported by the French government.

I participated in more than 60 workshops and seminars in Afghanistan about education administration, management, leadership.

I have 7 children that are all grown up now. All my children studied in a high school. My son is an engineer who graduated from university. Now he is studying in France for 40 days to improve his French language. That’s a good chance for my son.

In the last period of time when Mujahidin came to power, different portions of Mujahidin started fighting in Kabul and other provinces. Schools closed because of security, especially girls schools. Schools become a target for Mujahidin.  Slowly when stability came to Afghanistan and Kabul for me it was priority to encourage girls and their families to come back to school.

I gave the message to their families and asked them to send their daughters to school again.

Also I made a council of elder people and religious people, and gave a message to them to help my school. Also I gave a message to the mosque because you know in Afghanistan, mosques help with all these things to encourage families and parents to send and to attend the female students to schools.

Also I asked different NGOs to support us especially getting uniforms for the girls and school books, and to support orphans and poor students. All of it was to encourage the families of the female students to send them to school.

When the Taliban came to power, it was their policy to close all the schools for females. For me, it was difficult to go to school to teach. When I went to my school, the principal of the school was a Mullah and he didn’t allow me to enter the school and asked me after that not to come to school.  But for the boys, school was open.  I was a teacher every day and I was sad for the girls. When I understood the policy of Taliban was not to allow girls and female teachers to go to school, I started a home school for girls because families and their parents asked me to teach their daughters. Families trust me because I was a well-known teacher in my school. I decided to continue my job and my responsibility for my people and my female students especially to help them. It was a very strict time. Very difficult. I was afraid. The home school was very secret, not official. In one day there were three shifts, two classes of 25 girls.

It was a very difficult situation because the Taliban was very strict in their rules.

The Taliban thought I ran a class for the holy Koran – a religious class but I taught not only the holy Koran, but also all the subjects that were in school – the complete school curriculum. I did not receive any salary for this.

Today it has changed. When the Taliban fell and under Karzai, everything changed. Schools opened for the girls and boys. I was the first female teacher who went back to my school and organized my school.

When I went to my school I can explain you how, what the condition was. The school was completely destroyed. The buildings had no windows, no doors. The surrounding wall of the building of our school was destroyed.

Schools didn’t have any chairs, tables, blackboard, chalk, totally no school materials because the school was a Taliban location.

When I went to my school first I cleaned the classes with the help of my female teachers and my labour. I made the surrounding wall in mud and stones. Fortunately I had taken all of the documents of the school and they were saved with me in my home. Once again I gave messages to their families, parents, mosque and asked families to send their daughters for attend school.

The girls came back slowly, slowly. I encouraged families, asked their parents to school, encouraged them, talked with them.  Also I sent my female teachers to their homes. I announced it in different mosques. Female teachers started coming back to school and I started my teaching, and female teachers started teaching again.

The government and thanks to the support of the international community, thousands more schools were built not only in Kabul but in different provinces, and destroyed schools were rebuilt, equipped schools with chairs, tables, good chairs, good tables.

Also more than 47, 48 different countries which are involved now in Afghanistan to support different schools in the country, in many provinces.

Now in Afghanistan, war continues every day. Here there are suicide attacks, bombs. The insecurity, and instability, is a big challenge for families, for our people, especially for girls attending the schools. You know, Afghanistan is a special country with special rules that must be followed by girls and women. When they want to go to school their parents are afraid about the lack of security, because suicide attacks happens, there are bombs and bad events in the city, many female students don’t come to school. For me as a director of this school, I have organized special transportation for my students. It’s a good solution to prevent absenteeism of girls from school.

It’s a big problem. You know when a bomb explosion happens in a city, how will the morale be of the students, especially female students? After each bad event that happens in our country, it has a very bad impact on their morale.

When a suicide attack happens, families don’t allow their girls to go to school for one or two days. Also for boys, but especially for girls.

In girls school it’s the rule the teacher has to be female. In my school, which I direct, of the 105 teachers, only 2% are male.

I only need three more female teachers for next year in my school, but in all Afghanistan it’s the big challenge for education, especially in the provinces for the girls’ schools. You’re faced with difficulties and challenges because of the lack of female teachers. Day by day the number of girls decreases especially in the high grades classes like 10, 11 and 12.

In the provinces especially in the unstable provinces like the south of Afghanistan the lack of the female teachers causes schools difficulties. Only in the big cities – the capital – we have in school a high number of female teachers. The Government and also the Ministry of Education are planning to do more to educate and hire female teachers, but it is hard to send teachers to the provinces because of lack of security.

It’s Afghan tradition and our religion doesn’t allow female teachers to go without their husbands anywhere. In provinces it is possible to recruit female teachers locally but in unstable provinces, the government is faced with difficulties recruiting. But in a stable province and in Kabul, we don’t have any problem about the job of female teachers.

It’s also a big problem especially for all of Afghan students who have graduated from schools and university to get a job as there is a lack of jobs. This decreased the number of students.

I am a realistic person and optimistic about our future of education and learning programmes in Afghanistan. Now our people, after three decades of war, completely know about the importance of education. People and families work hard and get money and spend more for their children to learn English, computers, to go to school. In fact they spend more investing in their children to go to school – like stationary, uniform.

In Afghanistan now there is big competition between Afghan families of knowledge and learning.  The families are lucky if their children go to school, if they learn more, graduate from high school and university, because now they know when a boy or a girl graduates from university he will be able to work not only in government, but with foreign NGOs and get a good salary. Good salaries can bring big change, fundamental change in their life. Because of that I am optimistic about the future of education in our country. One thing that is more important is that the international community support the future of education through our Government. Educated people don’t take guns and don’t destroy their country and their schools.

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