Online education is the only hope for Afghan schoolgirls, but it’s a chore


Deprived of access to school due to the Taliban’s failure to reopen secondary schools for girls, an Afghan teenager turned to the internet to try to exercise her basic right to education. But its autonomous e-learning mission has not been easy.

The morning Rabia H. * saw her younger brother leave for his first day at school since the Taliban came to power was difficult for the Afghan teenager.

The school reopened a month after the Taliban took power on August 15, and the 15-year-old Kabul schoolgirl had already gone through the most traumatic period of her young life.

A few days after the withdrawal of American troops on August 31, Rabia’s father fled to Pakistan. As a civil society activist from the persecuted ethnic minority Hazara, her father was in extreme danger under the Taliban. The family had hoped “until the last minute” that they would be evacuated from Kabul airport before the American withdrawal deadline, Rabia explained in a telephone interview with FRANCE 24 from the Afghan capital.

But when that failed, her father was forced to cross the land border into Pakistan, leaving his wife and five children behind as the journey was too dangerous for women and children.

Before leaving, her father, a committed women’s rights activist, took Rabia aside for a last heartbreaking pep talk. “He told me that I was the oldest, that I had to help my brothers and sister, especially my brother who is a year younger than me. He is in fourth grade and is not good at his lessons. I have a great responsibility, ”she explained.

Rabia was still at the top of her class for as long as she can remember. Her grades were a source of immense pride for her father, who knew he didn’t have to worry about his eldest daughter’s academic motivation.

The Taliban, however, have a different view of Rabia and other schoolgirls across Afghanistan.

Prior to their takeover, the die-hard Islamist group spent years assuring US negotiators that the new era of the “Taliban 2.0” would not be a repeat of their disastrous 1990s reign. But when schools across the board Afghanistan reopened on September 18 following a closure due to Covid-19, secondary schools for girls remained closed, effectively depriving girls aged 13 to 18 of an education.

For Rabia, the reopening of the school on September 18 was bittersweet. “I was really happy for my brothers because they could go to school. They could meet their friends, teachers and classmates, and also, they could get an education, ”she said. “But when the Taliban just reopened boys’ schools, we became more desperate. Before that, we thought that when schools reopened, they would reopen for boys and girls. “

But falling into despair was not helpful, especially at such a difficult time for the family. Determined to continue her education, Rabia turned to the internet, launching an unassisted e-learning mission.

Exercising his fundamental right to education has not been easy. Self-education without basic infrastructure and academic support proved to be a difficult struggle for the teenager – and it gives her hard lessons in life.

“Treat women like animals”

Almost two months after coming to power, the Taliban are seeking public relations for international recognition and humanitarian aid, granting visas and interviews to foreign journalists while brutally cracking down on Afghan journalists, according to the report. UN.

On Tuesday, the Taliban held their first face-to-face talks with a joint EU-US delegation in Doha, Qatar. Faced with a humanitarian crisis in a country where female labor is trapped inside while many male relatives are either illegal or unpaid or negotiating migrant routes out of Afghanistan, the EU was forced to react this week.

At a special virtual G20 summit on Tuesday, the EU pledged € 1 billion ($ 1.2 billion) in aid to Afghanistan. EU chief Ursula von der Leyen stressed that the funds are intended to offer “direct support” to Afghans and would be channeled to international organizations and not to the interim Taliban government, which Brussels does not recognize. “Our conditions for any engagement with the Afghan authorities are clear, including on human rights,” von der Leyen said in a statement.

Rabia is unambiguous about her position on the Taliban and she wants her message to be heard. “Please don’t recognize them as a government,” she pleads. “The Taliban treat women like animals. They want to forget about Afghan women. They don’t allow us to live, to go to school, they don’t even want to talk to women. If we protest, they chase us like animals, ”she said, referring to a fierce Taliban crackdown last month on women protesting the restrictions.

A Taliban soldier beats women protesting in Kabul on September 8, 2021 in this photo obtained from a video on social media. via Reuters – Video obtained by Reuters

Daily routines determined by power outages

Since the Taliban came to power two months ago, Rabia’s life has shrunk inside the walls of the family apartment. The Internet is its only window to the outside world, but even that access is limited by daily blackouts.

“In the morning we have a little electricity, but in the afternoon there is no electricity. The evenings are better: some nights we have electricity, others not, ”she explained.

His daily routine these days is determined by erratic electricity. She studies alone in the morning, negotiating Internet shutdowns. In the afternoon, when the power goes out, Rabia’s two teenage neighbors come and the three girls help each other with their morning classes. Evenings are for the Internet, when she can study with her brother and work on their English skills.

Internet resources, however, are primarily in English and not in Persian, its ancient language of instruction. The teenager, who would have been in 10th grade this year, now has to manage educational sites in English without help. “It’s very hard, we don’t have a teacher to help us. I’m trying to find someone to help me. I asked people – some said they were busy and refused, others didn’t even answer, ”she explained.

Rabia’s family and friends are in various stages of shock, trauma, or transition, and it is difficult for them to help a teenager in need as they all scramble to cope.

Her father is fighting without money or a job in Pakistan, and she doesn’t want to bother him. An uncle who worked for the Afghan National Defense Security Forces (ANDSF) is in hiding.

He has good reason to fear for his life. There have been increasing reports of atrocities against the Shiite-majority Hazaras in recent weeks. In the family’s home province of Daikundi, located in Afghanistan’s central Hazarajat region, for example, the Taliban carried out a “cold-blooded execution” of 13 Hazaras, including 11 former ANDSF members, Amnesty International revealed last week.

Days after the Taliban invaded Kabul, a group of Taliban fighters arrived at Rabia’s family home and asked for her uncle. “My mother opened the door and told them that all the men are gone, that they are not there. Then two days later, I saw a car full of Taliban parked in front of our building. They are checking our apartment. They are all over Kabul, it’s very scary, they even look scary, ”Rabia said.

University dreams

Until the schools reopened, Rabia’s mother was the only one who left the apartment, going out to buy the bare necessities as the family survives on dwindling savings.

Before the Taliban takeover, Rabia focused on studying abroad at university. “I was planning to get a scholarship at a really reliable international university. I wanted to be a scientist and I really wanted to go to a good university where I could be whoever I want to be, ”she said.

That dream faded when the Taliban took power, but she is not about to let go. Once at the top of the class, she tenaciously prepares for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) required to enter an American university.

She does not know how or where to take the test, but she is diligently taking classes on Khan Academy, a free online education website run by an American NGO founded by famous American educator Salman (Sal) Khan.

“It’s awesome, I love it,” Rabia said, her voice, for once, bursting with teenage excitement. “It’s a playlist that I can follow, and they have materials, videos for all skill levels.”

While Khan Academy now has platforms in multiple languages, Persian is not one of them, and Rabia admits it’s a chore.

“I asked for help from friends at the American University of Afghanistan”, she explained, referring to the main university in the country, which went online after the takeover of the Taliban. “But they were busy and refused to help. When it happened, I was heartbroken. Every day, I feel more alone. My father is gone. I miss him too… I can’t describe my feelings, ”his voice trailed off, breaking with emotion.

But then the supernaturally mature 15-year-old picked herself up again – as she has done for the past two months – and said, “I tell myself I should be strong – for my dad.” , my family and the women of Afghanistan. . If we don’t speak up, the Taliban will do whatever it takes and we can’t let that happen.

* Name changed to protect identity

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