An Ongoing War Without Bombs Inside Afghanistan: The Radicalization of The Current Education System by The Taliban
Photo Credit: UNICEF/Mohammad Haya Burhan | An Afghan girl in the Nawabad District of Kabul, Afghanistan.
By Zulikha Akrami
A nation’s development is underpinned by its education system. While an open, updated, and modern education system allows the nation to progress and enhances its well-being, a radical, ideological, and suppressed education system leads to the deterioration of the nation and affects many people’s lives. The current Taliban attempt to radicalize the education curriculum in Afghanistan will lay the foundation for extremism among future generations.
Historically, madrasas (Islamic religious schools) held a very important role in the education and training of almost 98% of Afghan families, as they provided free or low-fee religious education and the teaching of the Quran at a young age. There is a strong historical and etymological connection between madrasa students and the Taliban movement that developed from a network of Pakistani and Afghan religious schools in the 1990s. This is because many of these madrassahs were terrorist dens (Borchgrevink, September 2010).
The Taliban’s ideology which is derived from an extremist interpretation of Islam and Salafism is shaped by these madrasas. In a similar manner, in the Taliban chain of thought the education curriculum is radical in order to support their extremist interpretation of Islam. The decision of the Taliban to radicalize the education curriculum in Afghanistan would change the minds of the youth and would result in the spread of an extremist ideology. The successive collapses of governments in the past 4 decades along with ongoing domestic conflicts, especially the recent collapse of the Afghanistan government in 2021, affected the education system dramatically.
Since the Taliban took over power in Afghanistan, they have made several decisions to radicalize the education system, on the basis of an extremely conservative interpretation of Sharia. They have revised the education curriculum to prioritize religious studies. Within the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Higher Education a curriculum committee has been set up with the task of removing some subjects that were part of school and university curriculum during the previous government.
The subjects which were removed were deemed to address democracy, elections, the constitution, human rights, music, and other topics that do not align with the Taliban’s ideology. It has been reported that in some provinces the Taliban replaced English, culture, history, and physical education with Islamic studies. Thus, the Taliban’s purpose is to teach war and jihad as two distinct concepts across schools in Afghanistan (Rezai, November 24, 2022).
Adding subjects that teach and spread Taliban ideology within the classroom for elementary, middle, and high school students whose minds are shaped based on what they learn there shows us the danger of extremist ideology being promoted in schools. Furthermore, in May 2022 the Taliban’s former Minister of Education inaugurated the largest religious school in Kabul (Polcharkhi) to train more than a thousand students each semester. On the inauguration day, Mullah Noorullah Munir announced that the Taliban has planned to build three to ten madrassa in each district of Afghanistan in the near future. (Taliban inaugurated the Afghanistan's largest religious school in Kabul, May 22, 2022).
Etilaatroz newspaper reported that the Taliban commanded all students residing in the Kabul Polytechnic University hostel to participate mandatory in lectures on Islamic and religious guidelines and values every Tuesday night for 30 minutes. These are to be taught by the head of the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Teaching "religious guidelines" for the students of Polytechnic University by the famous Taliban, February 2022). This could therefore be an outlet for spreading extremist ideology.
The Taliban decision to change the education curriculum and radicalize it has dire consequences, which affect certain disadvantaged groups more than others. The most affected are young girls whose access to secondary education has been banned, This not only further isolates women from taking part in socio-economic and political activities but implies that primary education the only adequate education for them.
Upon gaining power, the Taliban’s first decision was to prohibit female students from secondary school which was justified it as temporary measure in order to bring changes in female uniforms and curriculum to ensure the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic values were upheld. Despite national and international demonstrations and calls for the opening of education centers for women, as of today, it has been 19 months since the Taliban prevented access to higher education for females.
The issue of gender discrimination in education under the Taliban has led to enormous challenges for women. For instance, nowadays, women who graduated from universities or high schools in 2021 have no degree in hand to prove their attendance or graduation, which is one of the obstacles to obtaining an further scholarships to continue higher education. On the other hand, a smaller number of International NGOs who are currently assisting with humanitarian aid in Afghanistan cannot even recruit these women because the Taliban has banned women from working.
In the long term, the radicalization of the curriculum in regresses education and limits access to science, and technology. This will create a huge knowledge gap which is impossible to overcome. The Taliban authorities indicate that the regime is deciding to limit certain subjects by saying that Islam and Sharia are the sole legitimate sources of education and should underpin which subjects are allowed to be taught in school and universities. In turn they are limiting the core components of modern education, which is openness, critical thinking and having a healthy learning environment.
In addition to the ban on social and cultural subjects Pashto and Dari literature programmes will be changed in areas which are not viewed as being in line with Islamic values. For example, in Dari grade 6 classes the lesson on Nawroz (New Year) will be removed because this pre-Islamic new year tradition is ‘haram’ in Islam.
The Hasht-e-Subh newspaper accessed a document produced by the Taliban revision committee about changes to the education curriculum. Some subjects will be removed entirely, and textbooks will be deprived of images of living things. Of particular concern are depictions of little girls and people doing sports, as well as anatomy images in biology textbooks (Oates, December 2022).
In the modern education system learning the style of students vary and lesson plans can be designed based on the different learning styles of students such as visual, auditory, reading & writing, and kinesthetic. However, by removing images from books teaching methods will automatically change. If the Taliban is against anatomy images in biology textbooks, then the use of videos, and other visuals, to help students’ learning is impossible. (Oates, December 2022).
Ultimately, the radicalization of education in Afghanistan will mean that schools under Taliban will produce citizen who have diverse’ knowledge and skills for viable livelihoods. It will not produce individuals who can help Afghanistan integrate into the modern global economic community. These changes by the Taliban are setting Afghan students up to fail in the modern world.
A high school diploma from an Afghan public school will be worthless. It will be a stigma on the global market (Oates, December 2022). Sadly, the future generation of Afghanistan studying under a radical education system will be included to support extremism in Afghanistan which would be a threat to regional peace and international stability.
Zulikha Akrami is a new writer and Afghan Refugee in the USA. She has an MA degree in International Relations. She wrote pieces for Hashte- Sahib, Rakhshani, and Nemahraikh publications in Persian. Currently, she is studying a research online program funded by Afghan Research Initiative.
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The article does not reflect the official opinion of the AISS.