At the time of writing, 145 people have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 so far with Afghanistan’s very limited testing facilities; the outbreak poses a major challenge to a country already struggling with deep seated poverty, long-running conflict and an extremely fragile health system and lacking school facilities.
Approximately 3.7 million children are out of school, and 60 percent of those children are female. That’s 1 in every 3 girls attending school, a lack of female teachers, specifically in rural areas, may be a reason for low enrollment of girls. In half of all Afghan provinces less than 20 percent of all teachers are female. About one third of girls are married before the age of 18 and are then urged to discontinue their education. In some schools there is lack of sanitation and access to clean and safe private toilets. Children who come from low-income homes are forced to work at school-age. Teachers often find it difficult to provide quality education with a lack of supplies and resources, some classes are held under makeshift tents; others are held out in the open.
Apart from the challenges mentioned, the education ministry announced the closure of all public and private education institutions over fears of the spread of the COVID-19. Afghanistan still has not announced any policy for education while the education institutions are closed. There is complete disconnect between teachers and students. The other challenge is lack of access to internet and technology due to low literacy rate in the target areas. The students are free with no tasks during the day which leaves many students unable to connect to distant learning moreover forgetting what they learned during the year.
Shazia student of grade 4 with her two sisters in grade 2 and 3 says, “I am student of Kotabzai Girls High School in Mehtarlam, Laghman province. I have not seen my teachers nor have we contacted since the closure of schools. We are free during most of the day with no school work to do. I also visited one of my teacher’s home to ask if there is any work to be done but he was not at home. I want to request the teachers to prepare a small package of learning material for the students to be engaged in while we are at home. I miss my friends at school. We cannot go out to play as well. I try to help my younger siblings in their school work whenever I am able to. But then again, they do not have much to do like me.”