Pupils from Mariam Girls High School in Kabul

Pupils from Mariam Girls High School in Kabul

Pupils from Mariam Girls High School in Kabul

Paul Smith blogs about the educational opportunities that Afghanistan now offers young people, the determination to raise international awareness amongst its students and to pioneer concepts of global citizenship.

Back to school! But that phrase doesn’t give me the gripes here. There‘s nothing more uplifting, and sheer fun, than visiting one of Kabul’s buzzy schools particularly when, as in my two most recent visits, they’re packed with thousands of bright Afghan girls whose mothers, 10 or 20 years back, wouldn’t even have been allowed out of their homes let alone behind a desk.

A few days back we were presenting the first British Council International School Award in Afghanistan. Mariam Girls High School in Kabul has shown a determination to raise international awareness amongst its students and to pioneer concepts of global citizenship. What a fantastic achievement for a community of women and girls whose previous experience of the outside world has been so intrusive and oppressive!

And this week our departing British Ambassador was presenting computers to another Kabul girls school, Alfath Girls High, to help them become ace participants in our Schools Online project which is connecting schools across the world every which way.

Things are moving fast here in school reform, and I like to think we’re nudging things along too. The first move was to get millions more kids into school. Less than one million in school 10 years ago. 8 million and rising in school now with girls at 40%. Next was to improve leadership, teaching, curricula and materials. Lots of us have joined together to help here too.

But a next key area – and here I feel the British Council is leading the way – is to improve the student experience, to help inculcate a learner-centred environment and – now here’s something radical in a still hierarchical and feudal country – involving the pupils in the management of the school.

Recently we ran an invigorating workshop for 20 schools in this city to help them develop in-school student councils. This was the first time ever that Afghan teachers, principals and students had joined a forum together to debate the future of their schools. It’s a cliché everywhere else but simply too true to turn to cliché here – the young are the future and the present of Afghanistan. It is they who must ultimately determine what happens here – not NATO, the UN, ‘the West’, geographical neighbours or men of violence (yes, I’m happy with that sexist phrase). The giggles and shrieks of that auditorium of Afghan girls – laughing at HMA and my stuffy pinstripes and brogues – ring out with hope for the Afghanistan of tomorrow.

Find out more about our work in Afghanistan