Future of schoolchildren in jeopardy
Poppy cultivation in school yards and teachers who can neither read nor write are a reality in parts of western Afghanistan.
Schoolchildren can hardly hope to learn from teachers with no qualifications who only got the job because of influential benefactors.
There are drug addicts amongst teachers in schools in districts like Balamurghab in Badghis province.
Also, heads of education in the western zone told Killid half the teachers on the rolls would fail the Ministry of Education's criteria for jobs that includes ability to speak in the local language, teaching skills and either a bachelor's degree or high school certificate.
Killid spoke to authorities in provincial education departments, civil society activists, teachers and people's representative in provincial councils in the western provinces.
Abdul Razaq Ahmadi, head of education in Herat province, says that as per their assessment more than half the teachers fail to make the cut and should be dismissed. To questions about drug addiction among teachers, he says it is one of the department's main concerns and monitoring teams are investigating.
According to reports, there are addicts among teachers in districts in the province like Adresken, Guzara and Shindand. How did they get the jobs? "Probably these people may have become addicted after they were employed," he says. Prospective teachers are hired only after their applications are cleared by officials in public health, police headquarters and judiciary.
Ahmadi fears the system has been subverted by powerful individuals working in governmental and non-governmental offices. He says the name of Afghanistan should be changed to Fesharestan (place of pressure). He did not name the people but told Killid "some" Members of Parliament (MPs) were involved in influence peddling – pushing their candidates into jobs.
The Herat education department under Ahmadi has seriously sought to counter the trend, and implement basic reforms. Interestingly, Abdul Qudoos Yasinzada, head of private schools in the province, says their assessment of teachers paints a harsher picture. Two thirds of teachers would fail to make the test, he says. Barring districts like Enjil, Karukh, Zendajan and Ghorian that are located next to Herat City, teachers in the remaining 11 districts are barely literate. Meanwhile, two teachers in Herat insist there are addicts among teachers even in the provincial capital. Education standards will only rise with the hiring of professional teachers, equipped laboratories, text books and management.
Authorities in the provincial department say it is armed opponents of the government who have planted poppy in school yards.
Abdul Qayoom Sajed, head of education, says poppy is cultivated in most schools in Balamurghab district, and many teachers and students are addicted.
There are addicts among teachers in Maqoor and Qades districts also.
Sajed blames the insecurity, and pressure from powerful individuals, tribal leaders, religious authorities and jihadist commanders. There are 2,744 teachers on the rolls, 400 are unqualified. Most teachers in district schools like Jowand, Maqoor, Qades and Balamurghab are baccalaureate (high school graduates).
Provincial police chief Abdul Rawoof Taj confirms school yards have been turned into opium field in Balamurghab. The police have launched an operation to uproot poppy bushes, he says. The campaign began on Mar 21. It is a priority for the police, Taj claims.
Mawlawi Abdul Baset, head of the Badghis provincial council, believes lack of security, low salaries in districts, and the influence of powerful individuals have corrupted the practice of teacher-enrollment. There are also ghost teachers, he says, those who do not teach but are on the rolls and paid salaries.
But head of education Sajed does not think ghost teachers are a big problem. Some 40 schools in Balamurghab, Jowand and Qades are not functioning because of security threats, and not because there are no teachers, he says.
Jamila Amini, head of the provincial council told Killid the big educational challenge was in the districts of Gulestan and Anardara. According to her, 60 percent of teachers in Farah are not professional. There are 2,077 teachers in the province.
Authorities say only one teacher was dismissed for drug addiction last year. Mohammad Sadeq, the teaching assistant in the Farah education department, says Taleban have threatened authorities in Gulistan district education department for not employing candidates they had recommended in teaching posts.
According to Sadeq, there are teachers in Bakwah district who cannot read or write. The matter has been raised with security agencies and the governor's office, and both have promised to act to weed out the influence of armed opponents, and ensure security in schools.
Some 4,000 teachers are employed in 847 schools. Sebghatullah Akbari, head of Ghor education department, says about 45 percent would not meet the ministry's criteria.
Kabir Haqmal, head of the publication department in the Ministry of Education considers half the teachers incompetent. He did not comment on addiction among teachers but in Ghor monitoring and health teams are trying to get addicted teachers out of schools, and into deaddiction programmes. At stake is the future of tens of thousands of schoolchildren in the western provinces.