Young Afghans see hopes crushed

“I want to be a doctor,” says Nagina, six, wearing a small white headscarf. “I want to be a pilot,” says Hemat, eight, who adds that he is top of his class in maths. There is optimism among the young children at the Bibi Mahro school on the outskirts of Kabul and a cast-iron certainty about the jobs they would like to do in the future.  

“I want to be a doctor,” says Nagina, six, wearing a small white headscarf.

“I want to be a pilot,” says Hemat, eight, who adds that he is top of his class in maths.

There is optimism among the young children at the Bibi Mahro school on the outskirts of Kabul and a cast-iron certainty about the jobs they would like to do in the future.

With much going wrong in Afghanistan, education is seen as one of the rare success stories in the country.

Cruelly crushed

It is an issue Western leaders cling to: more children are being educated than ever before - and girls are back in the classrooms having being effectively banned from going to school under the Taliban.

But Afghanistan is a country where aspirations can be cruelly crushed - and where the chances of becoming a pilot or a doctor are slim.

And that is down to a drastic shortage of university places. There are about 20,000 government places at university in Afghanistan, according to officials.

Rashid, 18, is a typical example. He is about to leave Bibi Mahro school and hopes to study engineering. But he knows there is every chance he will not find a university place.

Rashid says he worries that his life will come to “nothing”.
“I cannot achieve my purpose in life,” he says.

But going to university is more than just about Afghans getting a good job. It will be crucial when the West eventually leaves Afghanistan.

Part of the strategy here is to “institution build”, in effect, create a pool of well-educated bureaucrats who can run the country themselves instead of relying on highly-paid international advisers.

Nation-building

“Everybody agrees that Afghans have to take care of their own country,” says Anders Fange, the director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan.

“The question is where will all the managers, engineers, and teachers come from?”

While much of the focus of the West has been on military issues, there appears to be a renewed urgency to focus on this issue.

The UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has said the international community needs to focus more of it is efforts on nation-building.

Afghan Education Minister Dr Farooq Wardak admits that they have to act “rapidly” to produce professionals who can run the country.

“We are not blind to the challenges,” he says. “Afghanistan cannot rely forever on very expensive international experts.
“We have to make our education system relevant to the reconstruction and labour market of Afghanistan.”

But for now, there are tens of the thousands of young, bright Afghans who cannot find places at university - exactly the kind of people, you would think, who are needed to build Afghanistan.

Mushtaq Ahmad, 18, is one of them. He left school two years ago with excellent grades but is now jobless and has plenty of time on his hands.

He studies English, runs every morning and regularly visits Qargha Lake - a local beauty spot - with his friends, whose aspirations of being lawyers, engineers and accountants were also dashed.

Educated workforce

“If a person does not have any higher education he can lose his hope,” he says.

“If I go to university, I will solve all my problems and I will serve my people and my country.”

And that is the point. If you have a functioning, effective government - so the argument goes - Afghans will be willing to support it.

But Mushtaq warns that unless the government provides opportunities, then young people will be forced to find opportunities elsewhere.

“If our government doesn’t pay attention to young people,” he says, “the Taliban will be able to exploit them.”
Ultimately, the West wants to put the running of the country firmly back into Afghan hands.

But there can be no long-term stability in the country without its own educated workforce.

Anders Fange, however, believes that there has not been enough focus on developing the education sector.
“It’s too feeble,” he says. “It’s too little. And crucially, what’s coming now, it might be too late.”

BBC

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