“570 days since the Taliban banned teenage girls from school. Education is not a privilege, it’s a human right; a right Afghan women and girls continue to be denied #LetAfghanGirlsLearn,” tweeted Yalda Hakim of the BBC on April 13.
Like Hakim, many human rights, women rights and education rights activists across the globe have been counting the days that Afghan girls have been deprived from education, hoping for the day when school doors will be open again for all Afghan girls.
However, what will girls learn at school when they return? A recent report from Afghan newspaper Hasht-e Subh paints a dark picture of what boys at schools are currently learning:
After the Doha agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban in 2020, the Taliban started to revise the school curriculum. In this process, Pashto and some Dari textbooks have been used, which include 45 elementary school textbooks, 48 secondary school textbooks, and 43 high school textbooks. The Taliban have evaluated the textbooks by a board they call “technical,” assuming that the previous government was a puppet. According to the Taliban, since the curriculum was compiled and issued by the Republic with the financial assistance of foreign countries, some “non-Islamic and non-Afghan standards similar to the western world” have been included in it. In the introduction, they admit that the curriculum of the past 20 years has an Islamic appearance, but “ugly superstitions” have skillfully been included in it under the title of Islam. By ugly and superstitious, they mean democracy, equality, women’s rights, civil liberties, tolerance, mutual acceptance, non-violent measures and other values that are not compatible with their own ideology.
The report added that the “Taliban have not revealed the identities, academic backgrounds and scientific qualifications of the board members [responsible for evaluating textbooks]. But from the content of the report, it can be understood that there was no place for education specialists and pedagogy experts in the composition of the board.”
Instead, Hasht-e Subh noted that the Taliban’s goal in overhauling the education curriculum is to “strengthen the ideology of the Taliban among the future generations… This is why the changes proposed by the Taliban are very extensive.”
This attitude toward education is why no one in my family currently attends school – none of my brothers or sisters.
“I remember very well what they were teaching and forced students to learn at school in the last period of Taliban in 1990,” my father said. “They were trying to brainwash people. I don’t want my children study the Taliban’s curriculum. I want my children get educated and empowered to serve to our nation and humanity.”
“The Taliban claimed that they changed, but they never did,” he added. “They want to take time back and do everything like that period.”
As an example, one of the main goals of changing the curriculum, according to the Taliban, is “to replace the extremist views of the Taliban in the textbooks.” As part of that, the Taliban have demanded an end to the emphasis on peace in the previous curriculum, and a rehabilitation of the Taliban’s “real jihad” against the United States, among others. Under the Taliban curriculum, “children are encouraged to fight… instead of financial and human losses of past wars, the religious and worldly benefits of past jihads should be explained in the curriculum.”
But my father does not want his children learning to embrace violence. He believes that the ideology of the Taliban is against our religion and culture.
“Islam teaches us to do not offend people with our tongues, our hands, and our works. Killing people is an unforgivable crime. If in Afghanistan my children cannot go to school forever, that is okay, but I don’t want that my children learn how to commit suicide or be proud of being killers and humiliating and discriminating against other people.”
In addition to teaching violence, the Taliban “have removed all topics related to human freedoms in school curriculum,” Hasht-e Subh notes. “The Taliban have said that the standards of human rights in the education curriculum should be explained only from the perspective of the Taliban’s religious interpretation.” The new curriculum instead emphasizes Shariah and “the evils” of democratic elections.
The issue of women’s rights, and depictions of women taking part freely in society, was another major concern for the Taliban. From the Hasht-e Subh report:
In two cases, members of this committee read stories in the textbooks that encourage women to leave the house; they emphasize that the necessity of going out fully covered should be emphasized in the same lessons. Regarding women’s work in schools, hospitals, factories and government offices, the Taliban have said that the limits of women’s work conditions for education should be defined from an Islamic point of view… The fact is that according to the Taliban, women cannot work in any of these places…
My father expressed his anger against the Taliban’s claim that their restrictions on women are an essential part of Islam. “The first wife of our Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Bibi Khadija, was a business woman. Bibi Aisha also was dealing with politics even she participated and led in war,” he pointed out. “However today, after 15 centuries, the Taliban claim that Islam bans women from working.”
“We follow Islam. not the Taliban ideologies. So my daughters have the right to study and work in any major they are interested in. There must not be any restriction on my daughters and all Afghan women.”
Today, it has been nearly two years since any of my siblings have been to school. During that time, my sister and I have been teaching my younger brother and sister using old textbooks; along with this we are looking for opportunities to study online. I believe there are thousands of families who think like my father, and thousands more children – including boys – being kept out of public school to avoid the Taliban’s brainwashing.
The Taliban paralyzed the education system during their previous period of rule, when they also dealt with the curriculum in an ideological way. And the practice of putting ideological propaganda in Afghan textbooks was strong even before the Taliban. During the civil war, the school curriculum was compiled with the help of international institutions and Mujahideen. Its main goal was to promote jihadism and antagonism. This included students being taught to count numbers with images of bullets, weapons, and other tools of war.
It remains to be seen whether international donors will work with the Taliban this time to develop a curriculum in which hate and hostility are propagated. But it seems that due to 20 years of living in relatively democratic conditions and the media revolution, the young generation of Afghanistan will not easily reconcile with an extremist ideological curriculum.