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Between conflict and Covid-19, education takes a back seat in Afghanistan

November 11, 2020

Original Article: https://www.thenational.ae/world/asia/between-conflict-and-covid-19-education-takes-a-back-seat-in-afghanistan-1.1086874

Even with new functioning buildings, however, the school could not avoid Covid-19 restrictions. It is one of many that are closed to pupils while the pandemic rages. Afghanistan officially had about 40,000 confirmed coronavirus cases but with limited testing available, numbers are thought to be much higher. A survey conducted by the Ministry of Public Health analysing antibodies found that up to 10 million Afghans probably had the virus. Acting Health Minister Ahmad Osmani said the survey showed 31.5 per cent of the population had been infected and recovered.

Education activists have taken to social media, decrying a public school system that has been gutted by conflict and coronavirus, and asking for schools to open again immediately. Private, tuition-based schools have long reopened since being closed in March to prevent the spread of the disease, and even senior high school pupils at public institutions returned to class.

But millions of children remain affected by large-scale school closures and it is feared that many will not return to class at all. The Afghan government announced this week that schools throughout the country should open in October but obstacles remain.

Afghanistan’s schools were in crisis before the pandemic, with the number of studying children falling in many provinces as conflict escalated and donor funding ended, a Human Rights Watch report found.

“Now things are even worse,” said Heather Barr, the group's co-director for women’s rights. “With only 30 per cent of women and 55 per cent of men literate, many parents cannot help their children to study.” Even before the pandemic, an estimated 3.7 million children across Afghanistan’s 34 provinces were out of school, Unicef said, with girls from lower-income families at risk of being married off.

The Ministry of Education reported that at least 7,000 schools still did not have a building.

And with most of Afghanistan’s funding being spend on defence, little is left for repairing classrooms that are destroyed by extreme weather, a lack of maintenance and the war. But Passab’s high school is an example of the kind of Afghan spirit that can be witnessed throughout the country. With the government offering few services, people are willing to invest and make sacrifices to build their country.

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