School year began in Afghanistan: No girls beyond 6th grade

The Taliban Ministry of Education marked the start of the new academic year with a ceremony that women journalists were not allowed to attend.

Boys attending school in Afghanistan.
Boys attending school in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy: ResoluteSupportMedia / Flickr

The school year began on Wednesday in Afghanistan, albeit without the girls whom the Taliban barred from classes starting from the sixth grade, making it the only country with restrictions on female education.

According to the United Nations children’s agency, more than a million girls were affected by the ban, with estimates suggesting that five million were already out of school before the Taliban takeover due to lack of facilities and other reasons.

The Taliban Ministry of Education marked the start of the new academic year with a ceremony that women journalists were not allowed to attend. Invitations sent to reporters stated, “Due to the lack of adequate space for the sisters, we apologize to female journalists.”

During the ceremony, Taliban Education Minister Habibullah Agha said the ministry was striving to “improve the quality of both modern and religious science education as much as possible.” The Taliban have prioritized Islamic knowledge at the expense of basic mathematical and linguistic knowledge with their shift towards madrasas or religious schools.

The minister also urged students to avoid wearing clothes that contradict Islamic and Afghan values.

Abdul Salam Hanafi, Taliban’s Vice Prime Minister, said they were trying to bring education to “all remote areas of the country.”

The Taliban have previously stated that continuing girls’ education goes against their strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, and that certain conditions need to be met for girls to return to school. However, the Taliban government has made no progress in creating these conditions.

The group also banned female education when it ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Despite initially promising a more moderate mandate, the group has expelled women from higher education, public spaces such as parks, and most jobs under strict measures imposed after taking control of the country following the withdrawal of US and NATO troops in 2021.

The ban on girls’ education remains the main obstacle for the Taliban to gain international recognition as rulers of Afghanistan.

Although Afghan boys have access to education, Human Rights Watch has criticized the Taliban, stating that its “abusive” educational policies harm boys as well as girls. In a report published in December, the group stated that less attention was being paid to the profound damage caused to boys’ education due to the departure of qualified teachers – including women -, regressive changes in the curriculum, and an increase in physical punishment, which had led to a decline in attendance.

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