February 2005 -- The Project, One year Later
Student population -- 892:
Godah primary school (Wardak) - 114 students;
Khel primary School (Wardak) -- 246 students;
Fatima Zahra primary school (Jalalabad) -- 197 students;
Trilli School (Nangrahar) -- 335 students
Visit to Jalalabad: The project is now into its second year and is picking up pace. One of Ms. Basiri's priorities is to improve her monitoring of the schools. During the latter part of January, she again visits the two schools in Jalalabad to meet with the principal, teachers and students. The Godah schools are on vacation.
Absenteeism: Attendance is checked for the students at Fatima Zahra and is found to be satisfactory, with the exception of students in grade 2. However, the reason for their absence is that their teacher was sick for four days. Because funds are limited, only one teacher has been hired per class. If a teacher goes sick, there is no substitute available.
There is a separate issue with three girls, who have been missing school repeatedly. Ms. Basiri asks their mothers to come in for a meeting. One of the women said that her daughter had been visiting a friend instead of going to school, without her knowledge. The other two mothers explain to Ms. Basiri that they themselves were ill and were unable to take their daughters to school. One of the two says she will make sure her daughter attends school, come what may. The other says that it's her husband who sees to it that their daughter goes to school -- she herself does not care.
Trilli School, Nangrahar: On February 16, Ms. Basiri visits Nangrahar to check on the progress of the Trilli school. As she does upon each visit, she holds a meeting with the principal and teachers to review their lesson plans for the upcoming month.
Trilli currently has two schools, one of which is a boy's school that was created 12 years ago. The girls' school has only recently opened and its structure is in desperate need of refurbishment. Although the government has registered the school, independently of the boys' school, no funds have yet been provided for its operation.
Ms. Basiri faces a dilemma. As mentioned in last month's report, the request to take on this school is coming from the government. Although the Omid grant is to fund three schools, Ms. Basiri recognizes that without Omid's support the school will have to close. She has invested a considerable amount of time on Trilli over the last few months, and she is too committed to the girls to allow the school to close. She decides to consult the Advocacy Project.
Recruitment of female teachers: Last month, Ms. Basiri asked the principal to interview several teachers in the area for the Trilli school. Jalalabad and Nangrahar are among the fortunate regions where there are qualified women available to teach. The principal informs Ms. Basiri that he has interviewed four thus far and finds two of them to be good candidates. He feels that the other two, who are in their teens, are too young. He expects to interview seven more women before the end of the month.
School Budget: The principal also discusses his proposed budget for the next three months with Ms. Basiri. It incorporates salaries for six teachers and himself. He also requests additional items such as tents, desks, chairs and stationery for the students. Ms. Basiri decides that the budget is reasonable.
Attendance/Absenteeism: Before leaving, Ms. Basiri decides to check whether the standardized attendance planners that she gave the teachers last month are being used correctly. Although she provided instructions on how to use them, they are not doing this consistently. Based on a visual count, she finds that several students are absent. She wonders whether this has anything to do with a dispute that has been brewing between local communities in the area, but is unsure. As a result, there is some uncertainty if there are still 335 students in the school. The principal promises to ensure that the teachers are more diligent about using the planners. He will also provide an accurate count of the students for Ms. Basiri when she returns next month.
Godah School, Wardak: The Godah school is still closed for winter break. Nevertheless, Ms. Basiri makes a trip to Godah to meet with the teachers and prepare for the school's reopening on March 22, the start of the new school year in Wardak. (The school year starts late in the high altitude provinces, like Wardak, because the winter lasts so long). Ms. Basiri asks the principal and teachers to make a list of the school supplies they need, so that they can be delivered when she returns next month. The list contains standard items such as stationery, books, etc. A request is also made for two additional tents, as the existing ones are too small.
45 additional chairs are also requested. Some of the students have to sit on the ground during class, which is uncomfortable. The US Afghan Reconstruction Council provided some chairs last year, but they were not enough for all of the students. This has created inequality and jealousy among the students.
Noor Khel School, Wardak: Like Godah, the Noor Khel School is still closed. Ms. Basiri also pays a visit to Noor Khel but this time meets only with the principal. He also has a shopping list of needs, including salaries for three teachers and himself. The Principled also requests salaries for two guards. Despite the fact that the school is an established presence in the community, security is still a matter of concern. The furniture and supplies could be a tempting target for thieves (which is why the students kept the chairs in their homes during the winter).
The large size of classes. After a year, the size of classes has become a serious issue. Ms. Basiri realizes that one teacher will find it very difficult to control a class of between forty and one hundred girls of different ages. Because there was no education for girls under the Taliban, most of the girls are not used to attending class for extended periods of time. The ideal size would be twenty to thirty students. However, this will only be possible if Omid receives more funding. At present there is simply not enough money to pay the salaries of more teachers.
School Registration: The main benefit from government registration is financial support from the government, but the government still has to decide how much funding to allocate to the three schools (Trilli, Godah and Noor Khel) that are registered. This will occur in March, at the beginning of the new school year. Registration is also important for another reason -- it will ensure that more qualified teachers are available. If the schools become part of the government system, then they can apply to their local Directorate of the Ministry of Education to assign them new and better teachers.
But registration continues to take up a lot of Ms. Basiri's time. Although she has already submitted all of the required forms for the registration of Godah school, she still has to make a trip to the Ministry of Education to follow up in person. When she arrives at the ministry, she is surprised and frustrated to find that the paperwork has gone missing. She asks the officials whether she can look through their files to find the documents herself. After searching for a day, she finds all of her papers, which have been misfiled in three different locations. Unsure if this is due to negligence or if it is an unspoken invitation by the clerks to pay them a bribe, she resubmits the documents herself. However even after that, she is told that she will have to wait until the end of March when the national budget will be finalized before a decision regarding registration is announced.
Networking: At the end of February, Ms. Basiri travels to New York to participate in the Bejing + 10 conference. During the conference, she has the opportunity to discuss Omid's work with other NGOs working in the field of Education. She also meets with Evelina Gueorgieva and Iain Guest from the Advocacy Project, who travel to New York and receive an extensive briefing from Ms. Basiri about the project. In New York, Ms. Basiri meets with an official from UNICEF for a talk about UNICEF's work with schools in Afghanistan, particularly their teacher training program. The official provides her with some advice and a contact for her to call in Kabul to find out if Omid can benefit from any of UNICEF's programs. Other information Ms. Basiri's New York meetings will be included in the March 2005 report.
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