Unidentified armed men set fire to a middle school for girls in the capital of western Farah province, destroying all the furniture, library and some classrooms, Deputy Gov. Haji Bismillah Khan said.
Mirza Jan, a resident of Lashkargah, said the Taliban has several times threatened them with death if they sent their children to schools. The widespread insecurity has crippled the school system, said Deputy Education Minister Siddiq Patman.
According to Haji Mohammad Qasim, director of education in Helmund, "First security should be established in the region. It is a vital step for imparting education, without which the smooth process of learning is impossible."
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Kandahar has expressed deep concern over the closure of schools, particularly in the lawless southern provinces. The head of the AIHRC, engineer Abdul Qadir Noorzai, said both the public and the government are responsible for ensuring that the schools reopen soon.
Approximately 6.5 million children go to Afghanistan's roughly 9,000 schools, which employ 14,000 teachers. But only a third of the schools are housed in proper buildings, and there is an acute shortage of teaching materials, teachers and furniture. The majority of children study under tents or in the ruins of buildings destroyed in the U.S.-led fighting.
A survey conducted informally by Pajhwok Afghan News in 28 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces this month put education on the top of the basic needs list of most Afghans polled. The public just wants the basics.
Faridullah, a sixth-grade student in the northern Samangan province, said: "We want the government to build schools for us and provide us with a place to study in."
Sayed Munir, 23, from Sherberghan, the capital of the northern Jowzjan province, urged the government to pay closer attention to education, a basic need.
Nasir Ahmad, a resident of Ghazni city, said the government and aid agencies should provide better professional training for teachers and provide books in addition to rebuilding damaged facilities.
Education officials in Kabul admit that there are lots of problems, but insist they are trying to solve them. The ministry in its Accountability Week annual report card, submitted last November, said efforts were under way to expand access to schools and handle more students.
Fourteen new school buildings were handed over to local officials in northern Balkh and southern Ghazni provinces this month. Three middle schools for boys in Ghazni, where several schools were burned last year, were funded by the Japanese at a cost of $240,000.
Ji Nochi Sumi, representative of the Japanese government in the embassy in Kabul, said Japan would launch more reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, especially in Mazar-i-Sharif, the capital of Balkh, over the next three years. The projects would include construction of schools, roads and health clinics.
Afghanistan's reconstruction is on the agenda of a two-day global meet opening Jan. 31 in London to discuss the central Asian country's future. More than 70 countries will be pledging financial and technical assistance to rebuild the war-ravaged nation.
Large parts of the country are still restive. Taliban fighters have been targeting government employees, teachers and students in Helmand, accusing them of cooperating with the government.
Shah Agha, who lives in Babaji, in Lashkargah city, showed Pajhwok Afghan News a copy of a "night letter" distributed by the Taliban in early January, which reads: "If you want to be safe in the world and in the life hereafter, then don't go to the centers set up by infidels."
The letter adds: "Teacher salaries are financed by non-believers. Unless you stop getting wages from them, you will be counted among the American puppets."
A co-educational school in Kandahar city was torched overnight on Jan. 7, disrupting the examination process of some 700 students. Before the incident, the Taliban had distributed similar pamphlets warning students to stay home.
With their backs to the wall, Defense Ministry representative Lt. Gen. Jan Khan and Zalmi Rasool, presidential adviser on security, announced security would be beefed up in Helmand province with the deployment of about 300 additional security personnel.
Released by IPS under agreement with Pajhwok Afghan News
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