Education is one of the fundamental and inalienable rights of a person, which is enshrined in The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. ‘‘Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages’’, according to Article 26 of the Declaration. With as much as 75 percent of the population living in rural areas, half of which are under the age of 18, Afghanistan is one of the countries with the highest number of school-age children around the world. At the same time, it is also one of the poorest and less educated countries. Despite the growing number of young students, especially girls, at least 50 percent of Afghan teenagers do not have access to the school system yet.
Civil War and terrorism have contributed to make the country lag behind. Nonetheless, there is a small district in the east, where the school system works well. Children and young people of all ages and both sexes receive education there. Everyone seems happy. Yet, the facilities that accommodate these young minds are under the Taliban dictatorship. In the Bati Kot district, students’ backpacks do not contain literary texts, nor mathematics and philosophy textbooks. There is only the Koran inside of them.
Local teachers indoctrinate their students into what some people describe as “an innovative combination of Sharia and Pashtunwali”, the honor code of the Pashtun people. They emphasize solidarity, austerity, and family, but only the one “headed” by men. Besides, they a totally contrary to Shiite Islam, to the point of officially declaring the Hazaras (an Shiite Afghan ethnic group of Mongolian strain, which constitutes about 10 percent of the population) non-Muslims; they do not reject the traditional practices of the people, such as dreams interpretation used as a means of revelations. No one, young or old, is allowed to watch movies and television.
In Kabul, everyone is aware of what is going on in that distant province on the border, but no one does anything about it. The central government believes that quantity-based education is more effective than quality-based instruction. Children go to school and contribute to the positive statistics on literacy, and this is enough. It does not really matter what they are taught. A slap in the face of an essential and inalienable human right: the right to education. All this is even more widespread in the territories conquered by the Caliphate. Schools and classrooms have been completely covered with black drapes, the air is saturated with incense, and all the books have been taken away and burned. The only books that are still available concern what they call religious education.
Isis distributes simple photocopies, without a hard cover to suggest that these might be books prepared on purpose. Any form of science teaching is banned, Darwinism is prohibited, since these theories would question belief in God. Creationism, the God of the Islamic State and his will are the only lesson one can possibly learn inside these walls.
They do not just transmit theory in these schools. Many young people are forced to put these teachings into practice. You learn how to make war. Childhood and adolescence are thus broken by a spiral of violence and death. “No violence! We must teach our children that our only weapons are knowledge and education.” With these words, Hanan Al Hroub – a young Palestinian woman born and raised in refugee camps, who teaches there at present – commented during the award of the Global Teacher Prize, the Nobel Prize for Teaching, as it were, which chooses every year the best teacher in the world. This year, the choice is akin to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani young woman who became famous for her peaceful struggle against the Taliban, for the defense of women’s rights, and for the right of all children to education.
“All we want is peace: we want our children to be able to live their youth in peace”, this is Hanan’s slogan. When Israeli soldiers wounded her husband and their children witnessed the incident, the latter experienced such a strong shock that they refused to leave their home, not even to go to school. Thus, she has become their teacher: not to educate them to revenge, but to provide them with education and knowledge as peaceful weapons to defeat violent extremism. The most elementary of all rights is freedom from fanaticism and ideologies: without proper education, people will never be free.