Afghan girls attend secret schools amid Taliban rule

Afghan girls attend secret schools amid Taliban rule

Pari wakes up early in the morning to get prepared for another stressful journey to a secret school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Before stepping out the door, she had to make sure she was dressed properly and her face was covered, so the Taliban couldn’t identify her.

“The only thing I am afraid of is that the Taliban stops me and asks me where I am going, and I have nothing to say,” Pari told CTVNews.ca. Pari is not her real name. CTV News is using a pseudonym for safety reasons.

The 17-year-old, along with a few of her schoolmates, has been attending secret classes since December 2021, three months after the Taliban took power and banned Afghan girls from going to school.

Three million girls have been deprived of a secondary education since the Taliban seized control of the country in August 2021, according to UNICEF. The regime has also banned women from attending university as well as working many jobs.

Most recently, the Taliban banned Afghan women from working for the United Nations in Afghanistan.

“Through this ban, the Taliban de facto authorities seek to force the United Nations into having to make an appalling choice between staying and delivering in support of the Afghan people and standing by the norms and principles we are duty-bound to uphold,” the UN said in a statement published last week.

Pari was in Grade 10 when the Taliban announced the education ban. She says some of her classmates and friends are depressed and they see themselves surrounded by “big darkness walls.”

“The only concern Afghan girls have is their uncertain future, the windows and doors of hope are closed and they see a tall big wall in front of them that they can’t see what is waiting for them on the other side,” added Pari . “We don’t know how to survive the darkness engulfing us.”

Afghanistan is the only country in the world where girls are forbidden to attend school, but some organizations and volunteers outside the country are trying to help them continue their education online, including the Canadian International School of Afghanistan (CISOA) and Classrooms Without Walls ( CWW).

“OVS [Ontario Virtual School] and CISOA have formed a partnership to offer courses leading to a Canadian high school diploma, specifically the OSSD [Ontario secondary school diploma],” said Farhez Lakhani, head administrator of OVS. “I think that this collaboration is an excellent vehicle to bring access to education to regions and students that currently do not have the means and opportunity to learn.”

In an interview with CTVNews.ca, Lakhani said more than 140 certified OVS Canadian teachers are helping Afghan students and answering their questions online.

“The lack of education for girls in Afghanistan is a big misery,” Allah Mohammad Kakar, founder and CEO of CISOA, told CTVNews.ca. “We have been thinking about how we can find a way to solve this problem, and finally, we came up with CISOA.”

Afghan students, particularly girls who aim to attend CISOA classes, mostly rely on scholarship opportunities to pay fees and other expenses associated with taking online classes. Affording an education can be difficult for Afghans due to the country’s bad economic situation and extreme poverty.

According to the UN, 85 per cent of Afghanistan’s population of 40 million people are estimated to be living below the poverty line.

The CISOA considers discounts for new students, but Afghan students still say they can’t afford the enrollment fee and other expenses.

“I know a lot of people are unable to feed their families. How can they pay $5,000 to enroll their children in online schools?” said Pari. “The situation is very tough here [in Afghanistan] and we are forgotten.”

“Ultimately, I have to say [the most important thing] is for them to know that there are people who care,” CWW founder and executive director David Falconer told CTVNews.ca. “There are people in other places that know what they’re going through and that we care about them.”

CWW is based in Canada and offers free online courses for students from Afghanistan, Ukraine and Myanmar.

So far, 90 Afghan students are currently attending CWW online courses, and according to Falconer, that number is increasing.

“I read recently that females in Afghanistan are not allowed to enter historical sites and historical buildings and I thought, ‘It’s just one more layer of oppression.’ And so I want to be there for them, I want to do as much as I can to let them know that you’re not alone,” added Falconer.


Reporting for this story was paid for through The Afghan Journalists in Residence Project funded by Meta.