Following the closure of schools and universities to girls by the Taliban terrorist group, national and international educational institutions that cared about girls’ education began offering distance education programs to girls who were disallowed to attend schools or universities.
The COVID-19 pandemic drew attention to distance education, but it did not have a significant impact in Afghanistan due to inadequate resources and weak internet connectivity. After the Taliban gained control, the only option for girls to access education was through distance learning. However, the benefits of distance education are accompanied by significant challenges. Despite these challenges, many girls are pursuing their education through various online schools.
In 2020, Hazrat Wahriz founded Daricha School as an online educational institution aimed at teaching the Persian language to children born outside of Afghanistan with no prior background in the language. However, following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and their ban on girls’ education, the school administrators decided to provide online education to female students who had missed out on education but had access to the internet and smartphones. They also expanded the school curriculum to literature, introductory astronomy/cosmology, introductory philosophy, and photography training.
According to Wahriz, the founder and director of Daricha School, online education cannot fully replace the benefits of in-person education. Wahriz recognizes that the number of students who have access to online classes and facilities is limited, but believes that it should still be made available for those who are able to utilize it.
In addition to its online education offerings, Daricha School has taken steps to establish physical but underground schools in ten provinces of Afghanistan.
“Currently, we are active in ten provinces of the country, and all students and teachers are women. We use the curriculum of the republican system, but we gave up teaching some subjects such as Dari Reading and history, because of the flaws in them. Instead of Dari Reading, we teach classical literature and today’s literature, and instead of history books which were prepared by the Afghan government, we teach the history of human civilization to the students,” said Wahriz in an interview with Nimrokh.
Motivating students to learn is a common challenge faced by educators around the world. However, according to Wahriz, the teachers who work in Daricha in-person, underground schools in Afghanistan, do not face this challenge, as the students in these schools are motivated to learn despite the risks they face under the Taliban.
Wahriz also noted that the majority of the expenses for these schools are covered by his friends, family members, and the families of students who live outside of Afghanistan.
According to Wahriz, live interaction between students is a key aspect missing from online education. “The absence of live interaction can delay the development of important qualities in the students such as the ability to manage, give advice, and work in teams,” he believes.
In Afghanistan, where almost 97% of the population lives below the poverty line, providing online education facilities is a daunting task. The country also faces significant challenges related to slow internet speeds, which further complicates the provision of online education. According to a recent survey by Ookla, Afghanistan has the lowest mobile internet speed among 137 countries, and its linear internet speed is the slowest among 180 countries, making it extremely difficult for students to access online classes.
Mohaddesa Safi is a 17-year-old girl who has been deprived of education due to the Taliban’s domination and the closure of schools. She is currently taking online classes to study graphics programs. However, following online classes has been a challenging experience for her. “It’s like climbing a mountain for us,” she told Nimrokh. “In many cases, I could not follow the classes I wanted due to economic conditions and limited internet access.”
When Afghanistan fell under Taliban rule and girls’ schools were closed, Mohaddesa was in 11th grade. She has since graduated from 12th grade without attending school, under the Taliban Ministry of Education’s “promotion” plan. However, like millions of other girls in Afghanistan, Mohaddesa’s future is uncertain. She is worried about the Taliban’s restrictions on girls’ education and their ability to attend university.
“It’s ridiculous that we didn’t attend classes for even a day, yet we still graduated from 12th grade,” Mohaddesa told Nimrokh. “But what’s really terrifying to me is that girls are not allowed to attend university. I’m afraid that, like our mothers, we’ll be lost in the darkness of this group’s ignorance and that our voices won’t be heard.”
The situation in Afghanistan is dire, with nearly 2.5 million (almost 80% of) secondary and high school female students deprived of education due to the Taliban’s orders. Additionally, more than 100,000 girls and young women have been banned from attending universities. On the other hand, the internet is not readily accessible in Afghanistan, and prior to the Taliban takeover, only 18% of the population had access to the internet, according to a World Bank report. Without significant support from donor institutions to improve internet facilities, the implementation of online education or distance learning in Afghanistan appears to be a daunting challenge, if not impossible.
Somayya Rezaei, a third-year student of software engineering at Kabul University, turned to online education after the Taliban banned girls from attending university to bypass this limitation and continue her studies. However, the slow internet speed prevented her from continuing her studies on the educational website she had registered for.
“When the universities were closed, I paid to register on educational sites that teach programming, but because of the low speed of the Internet, I could not follow the lessons. Every night, I went to the roof of my house for nearly three hours to improve the speed of the Internet,” said Sumayya to Nimrokh.
Sumayya has been unable to purchase better equipment from Internet service companies and continue her studies due to financial constraints.
“Private companies that provide Internet services have very high prices that no one can afford to pay for them in the current situation. That’s why I stopped following online lessons and now I’m stuck in the corner of the house, frustrated,” said Sumayya.