For many Afghan girls, accessing quality education is already wrought with challenges – a situation complicated further since the pandemic. With the closure of schools, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) found out how girls in one community are continuing to learn against the odds.
Abbas Dara* is a relatively large village for the Andarab district in Baghlan Province. Around 300 families live there and most rely on agriculture for income. With the nearest school a long distance away, most people are illiterate. Due to concerns for their safety when travelling to school, as well as economic and cultural constraints, girls struggle to gain an education.
To provide opportunities for girls, AKF, with funding from UKAID, established an Accelerated Learning Programme (ALP) in 2019 for the 30 out-of-school adolescent girls in Abbas Dara. Classes are designed to fast-track learning so that girls who have been unable to study in the past can undertake future education or apply for skills training programmes. ALP is part of the broader STAGES (Steps Towards Afghan Girls’ Education Success) II project – funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and implemented by a consortium of partners led by the Foundation – which works with mullahs, school management committee members and teachers to slowly change attitudes and gain community support for girls attending secondary education.
After successfully completing the first grade, the ALP students were on course to start the second grade. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Education announced in March that all schools were to close.
In response to the pandemic, AKF staff, community leaders and teachers put in place a series of measures and interventions to keep the community safe and raise awareness of the health risks and guidelines for avoiding infection. Health and hygiene materials including masks, gloves and soap were distributed to students, teachers and school committees. The latter two were also provided with guidelines on how to distribute these materials to students.
One of the ALP teachers at the forefront of sharing this information, Miss Gulnoor Din, has also been supporting students to continue their education at home and engage with their parents, elders and older siblings to support them with their daily lessons. Miss Din is in the process of developing home-study lesson plans for the students including regular monitoring and support over the phone, and in-person for emergency situations. Remote support for both the teachers and the students is also being provided through AKF field staff.
Adapting to these new and unfamiliar circumstances has been very difficult for many in this community. But thanks to the inspirational work of teachers like Miss Din, AKF’s efforts to support girls to keep learning during this crisis has been made possible. Not only have the home lessons provided a sense of continuity for the girls, but they have also ensured that students, families and teachers alike know that their well-being will not be neglected during these trying times.
*All names of people and places have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
This text was adapted from a story published on the AKF USA website.