By Ruth Yohannes (Sahar Intern)
Our previous blog post featured Balkh province, where Sahar concentrates its efforts. In addition to its unique history, Balkh continues to stand out for its approach to the Afghan school system’s main problem: female student enrollment. In fact, the province has one of highest female enrolment rates in the country, 48% as of 2014.
This success is in large part attributed to the shuras (school councils), that have played an important role in rallying the community behind their efforts to provide a quality education for students. Shuras are the equivalent of PTAs here in the United States. They are composed of local elders, teachers and parents, who meet regularly to discuss the problems facing the school and potential solutions. In Ommolbilad girls’ High School, in Northern Balkh, parents helped renovated the school by gravelling the yard and planting trees in the compound. “Every month we have council meetings and have solved many problems by sharing them with the community”, said the school headmaster.
In addition, shuras are the ones who apply for development grants on behalf of their communities. They communicate their schools’ needs to the Ministry of Education and NGOs like Sahar, who provide them the resources necessary to strengthen them. Through their efforts, they have been able to raise the enrollment rates throughout the region. “Now, we all go out in the community and to the mosques to tell everybody to bring their boys and girls here. If they don’t, we encourage them until they do,” says Hussein Ali, a member of the local shura in Turabi girls’ High School. Parents may be reluctant to send their girls to school for many reasons, such as prejudice or safety concerns, but shuras facilitate communication with families and work to tackle misconceptions about education.
In the face of long standing obstacles to girls’ education, shuras offer a sustainable and proactive solution to those challenges. By involving the local communities in their children’s education, they set a strong precedent for the future generations of girls to go to school. Balkh province’s model of community engagement proves that school-community cooperation is an important factor for the return of Afghan girls in the education system.