LIANE HANSEN, Host:
During his visit to Kabul, Afghanistan two weeks ago, President Bush made a point of mentioning the successful efforts to get girls back into school. Although the enrollment figures have increased steadily over the past five years, a recent spate of attacks against girls schools is scaring some students away. NPR's Rachel Martin has the story.
RACHEL MARTIN: About three weeks ago in the town of Laghman 23 armed men broke into the Mendrala(ph) School for Girls in the middle of the night. They tied up the guard, shattered most of the front windows and torched the inside of the building, destroying several classrooms, dozens of Korans and hundreds of textbooks. Asi Rodin Hotak(ph) is the Head of the Education Department for Laghman Province. Walking into the school, he points to the front gate, which was charred to a black crisp.
ASI RODIN HOTAK: (Through Translator) The ceiling of this corridor was extremely black like this.. Hotak speaking at charred gate of school)
MARTIN: He says while no one claimed responsibility for the attack, the motive was clear.
RODIN HOTAK: (Through Translator) No girls can come to this school anymore. Teachers cannot teach in this school as well. If they come back to this school to study or to teach, then we will cut their ears and noses.
MARTIN: According to the United Nations, there have been at least a dozen attacks on girls schools in the past four months. Several have been burned down, and at least six people have been killed, including one student. Hundreds of schools have received so-called night letters, which warned faculty to stop teaching or be killed. Most of the attacks are in Taliban stronghold in the southern parts of the country, but Laghman, which is in the Northeast and relatively stable, has seen two of its girls schools burn down in the past few months.
Thirty-year-old Diva Hashimi(ph) has been teaching at the Mendrala School for the past two years. Her piercing green eyes light up, as does her quick smile when she engages with her students. Hashimi says the attack on this school felt like a giant step backwards.
DIVA HASHIMI: (Through Translator) We had a new start, a new beginning in Afghanistan, and this was a time that the girls could freely come to school, but this school being burned sends another message to Afghan women. They should stay at home.
MARTIN: After the attack on the Medrala school, most students stayed away for a few days until teachers convinced them it was safe to return. Eight-year-old Nadia Mochman(ph) echoed the frustrations of many students here.
NADIA MOCHMAN: (Speaking foreign language)
MARTIN: I really became angry at them, she says. What wrong had I done to them that they came to burn my school?
Nordia Shareef(ph) is 12 and wants to be an engineer or a doctor when she finishes school. And she says she won't be frightened out of her education.
NORDIA SHAREEF: (Speaking foreign language)
MARTIN: I was never scared about coming back to our school, even though it was burned, she says. It's very important for me to study and take part in the reconstruction of my country.
Abdul Ghafoor Ghaznawi(ph) is Afghanistan's Deputy Minister of Education. He says he's convinced the attacks are being waged not by the Taliban but by foreign insurgents trying to undermine Afghanistan's commitment to provide an equal education for every child.
ABDUL GHAFOOR GHAZNAWI: It is not our own people who would disrupt education. It is other elements that put their finger into this to cause disruption. It will not continue because the people want education.
MARTIN: David McLaughlin, deputy director of UNICEF in Kabul, says the violence and its effects on education are a great concern. He says UNICEF plans to establish 500 additional, informal schools in homes and other discreet locations this year, in part to lower the profile of girl's education in the more volatile parts of the country.
DAVID MCLAUGHLIN: The community is asking us to establish some smaller community-based schools within their villages, which is extremely encouraging. That the parents are not scared away, the children are demanding of their parents, that they want to continue their education. So some alternative is being found.
MARTIN: According to the Ministry of Education, girls schools currently make up roughly 30 percent of the 9,000 formal schools around the country. Most of those are primary schools and there's little data tracking how many girls actually go on to high school.
Girls schools are also underfunded; there's a problem finding qualified female teachers, and the instructors they do have often go for months without pay. Add to that the increased threat of attack and the more muddled picture emerges about the state of female education in Afghanistan.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)
MARTIN: But back at the Mendrala School in Mochman, students are more preoccupied with their biology homework or their Dory(ph) test, as they leave for the day. And despite the risks, they, like thousands of other girls around the country, will be back at school tomorrow.
Rachel Martin, NPR News, Kabul.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.