Friday, January 8, 2010

The Taliban turned it into a bomb factory, but now this school is back in business

Picture: Lt Sally Armstrong
By: David Marley

An Afghan school that was turned into a Taliban bomb factory before being destroyed in fighting has reopened to pupils.

Six months after the school in Babaji, Helmand province, came under fire during a battle to drive out Taliban fighters, tented classrooms have been opened for more than 100 pupils. A permanent 12-room school for the site is due to be opened by the summer.

The move has been welcomed by the Britain's Department for International Development as part of its work to improve the Afghan education system. It contributes about £30 million a year to help support Afghan schools.

One of the key players in setting up the school in Babaji was Captain Martha Fairlie, a Territorial Army officer from St Andrews in Scotland and a former BBC Scotland education correspondent.

Captain Fairlie is head of the military stabilisation support team in Babaji, whose job is to try to restore normality to the area.

"The establishment of the temporary school is one of the most powerful signs that people are starting to have confidence in security in the area and are willing to send their children to school every day," she said.

The school teaches numeracy, literacy and religious education to pupils aged six to 20.

When the Taliban was forced from power in 2001, about 1 million children, almost all boys, were attending school, according to Afghan statistics.

Today, the government says, about 6.6 million children are enrolled in schools - about one third are girls.

Despite successes, Taliban attacks have forced some schools to close their doors over security fears.

Unicef figures for primary school enrolment between 2000 and 2007 stand at 61 per cent.

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