Time to pay attention to neglected schools

Sayed Ikram Afzali, Executive Director of Integrity Watch Afghanistan | @SIAfzali

 

Recently I visited the Ibrahimkhail High School in Paghman District, about 15 kilometers from the center of Kabul City. The school was in critical condition: the building had cracks, the roofs were leaking, textbooks had not been distributed, some classes were held in open air or in tents, and students in most of the classes were sitting on the floor. The school building was constructed more than a decade ago and according to school management, it has received no repairs or maintenance since then. They added that teaching materials, especially textbooks, have not been supplied for the last five years. In addition, community representatives complained about the lack of basic security such as a boundary wall which is preventing many girls from the community attending the school.

Ibrahimkhail High Schools is not the only school in Afghanistan which faces such problems. There are tens of schools covered by  Integrity Watch’s Community-Based Monitoring program which have been facing similar problems for many years. A recent report by Integrity Watch on education titled “Education Compromised? A Survey of Schools in 10 Provinces of Afghanistan” indicates that the “majority of the schools (57%) reported leaking roofs, broken doors, furniture, or windows.” In addition, the report indicates that “only 59 out of 276 (21%) schools surveyed in the 10 Provinces were recorded as being well maintained; another 18% are being fairly maintained while 18% of the schools were found to be poorly maintained. An alarming 39% of the schools had no maintenance whatsoever.” Despite recommendations made by the report and promises by the Ministry of Education, there is no effective policy and program to provide Operation & Maintenance (O&M) support to schools in general and in particular to the schools in a critical condition.

Therefore, there is an urgent need for a policy and a program to provide O&M support to all schools but most importantly to schools in a critical condition on a priority basis. In addition, ensuring there is community engagement in helping to improve the condition of schools through a school budget from Ministry of Education with additional support from these communities will assist in terms of the sustainability of schools. Civil society engagement to facilitate initiatives such as Community-Based Monitoring will be a critical factor in ensuring the maintenance of the schools and accountability in spending the allocated budget for schools including O&M expenditures. However, community and civil society engagement will only be possible if the Ministry of Education accepting its shortcomings and opens up its doors to all relevant actors to help find solutions to the problems faced by the schools.