01/14/2011, 00.00
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Taliban no longer opposed to female education

Afghan education minister makes the announcement in London. Sources tell AsiaNews that a cultural change is underway in the country. However, low teacher salaries and the distribution of international aid in education are major problems.

Kabul (AsiaNews) – Afghanistan’s Education Minister Farooq Wardak said that the Taliban no longer oppose schooling girls. Sources tell AsiaNews that things are changing rapidly at the school level, but the lack of resources remains the educational system’s main problem.

In London for the Education World Forum, Minister Wardak told the UK 's Times Educational Supplement that a  "cultural change" was underway in his country and that the Taliban were "no more opposing girls' education".

Under the Taliban regime, girls were not allowed to go to school. Even recently, female education provoked violent protests. In November 2008, unknown attackers sprayed acid on the face of 14 female students and teachers in Kandahar to “punish them”, an act that cause protest and raised worldwide concern.

The Afghan education minister did not say if the issue was discussed during the talks held in the last few months between President Hamid Karzai and Taliban leaders. He did say however, “38% of our students and 30% of our teachers are female”.

Speaking to AsiaNews under the veil of anonymity, sources said that the way of thinking about female education is changing in the country, as opposition slowly declines.

“In the big cities like Kabul it is normal for girls to go to school. It is great to see them come out of school, easily recognisable by their black dress and white veil, adding a touch of colour as they leisurely walk in the streets.”

“In many areas, local mullahs are more likely to oppose girls’ education than the Taliban. However, people are paying less and less attention to them. The problem is the local, tribal way of thinking, which in many places see a woman’s place in the home, working to help the family. For this reason, some schools offer bursaries for female students from needy families, about 200 Euros (one euro-60 Afghanis) to pay for costs and convince families to let them go to school.”

However, “Education’s main problem,” the source said, “is teachers’ paltry salaries, which range between 70 and 100 dollars a month. A dollar is worth 45 Afghanis, that means salaries range between 3,500 and 4,500 Afghanis, but cost of living averages around 12-15,000 Afghanis per month per family. Bread (500 gr round or long loaves) can cost 10 Afghanis. A two-room flat in a Kabul Soviet-era tenement block can cost US$ 450 dollars. This is why teachers want to get bursaries like their students.”

In London, Wardak criticised the UK government for not providing more money for schooling in Afghanistan. But a representative said the UK remained committed to improving education in Afghanistan.

“Last year, the British government financed the salaries of 169,000 teachers through the Afghanistan reconstruction trust fund.” In addition, it has “helped Afghan communities to build schools in every province of the country," she said.

Speaking to AsiaNews, another source could neither deny nor confirm the information. However, it did say that many teachers must work a second job to make ends meet.

“In any event, I know for certain that many schools have not received subsidies for salaries, except from private sources. I wonder why funds are not given to all schools, in proportion to their size.”

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