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In Parwan, schoolchildren are forced to toil on farms.

Byline: Muhammad Hassan Khaliqi

In Parwan, schoolchildren are forced to toil on farms

Muhammad Hassan Khaliqi - Aug 1, 2008 - 11:07

CHARIKAR (PAN): Almost 50 percent of the 8,000 students from 35 schools in Sheikh Ali district of the central Parwan province are subjected to rigorous tasks for a good part of the academic year. The practice has prompted parents to stop sending their children to school.

During school hours, teachers and Education Department officials force pupils into sowing wheat, watering fields, ploughing land, planting and digging out potatoes, collecting beans and other forms of toil. Located 100 kilometers from the provincial capital Charikar, Sheikh Ali district has 35 schools, where around 190 teachers are supposedly imparting education to 8,000 students 2,600 of them girls.

A grower from Sadiq area of the district, Ali Ahmad once sent two of his sons - Ghulam Sakhi and Dad-e-Khuda - to school so they could receive a proper education and lead a better life. He did not want his sons to grow into illiterate tillers. However, the six-graders dropped out of school as their father prevented them going to school. Now they are tending sheep.

Asked to justify his decision, Ahmad reasoned: "We send our sons to school to learn. One day, their teacher is absent and the other day they are made to work on (teachers) farms. Why shouldnt our children work for us?"

Ghulam Sakhi, one of Ahmads sons, has resultantly dropped pen for a stick -grazing around 200 sheep for eight hours a day in nearby Kotak and Diwalak mountains. The 14-years-old has thus become a perfect shepherd who effortlessly drives his cattle into the paddock on return home in the afternoon.

Counted among talented students of his class, Sakhi did love to study. Once his father found out that his son worked in fields rather than school, Sakhi and his brother were withdrawn instantly. But pushing students to labour in fields is no new issue in the district, where the unlawful exercise stretches back to the early 1980s. Reminded of the brazen misdemeanor, education officials moved to stop this malfeasance, but could not succeed.

The district education officer has warned schools against using students as labourers. "All schools of Sheik Ali district are notified to prevent teachers and other officials assigning schoolchildren with personal tasks. A headmaster or principal committing such an act will be held accountable."

With no school head subjected to accountability hitherto, educationists cite the lack of an effective system of checks and balances in the provincial education department as the main reason for the unprofessional conduct.

Although Director Abdul Zahoor Hakimi disagreed with the expert opinion, he did acknowledge his failure to monitor the 35 schools under his supervision. He saw remote location of the district and inadequate media coverage of student exploitation as major factors perpetuating the problem.

On the other hand, some teachers have their own weird logic for requiring students to do their personal chores. For instance, Muhammad Ali (teaching Physics and Chemistry at the Imam-e-Jafar Sadiq High School) confessed to giving children strenuous tasks. He insisted the hard labour benefitted the students. But how, he could not explain. "A teacher cant do in several days what students can in a single day" was the spurious argument he dished out. "If a teacher works on his farm, he cannot go to school and his absence from class will obviously deprive students of learning lessons," he went on.

Pupils are generally informed of such assignments a day in advance, with schoolteachers and headmasters ordering them to bring tools like spade, sickle and handsaw. In certain cases, they are also told to bring animals including donkeys. The next morning, the teacher takes the students to his farmland.

Muhammad Hassan, a 12th class student from Dahan-e-Nirkh area, recalled how he joined 10 other classmates in working as labourers for Principal Muhammad Shah Murtazavi. He revealed they scooped with their own tools dung as fertilizer over five acres of land owned by the headmaster.

"We worked painstakingly from 8.00am until the afternoon, collecting waste from toilets and pouring it on the farms. That day, we were branded as waste-collecting students," Hassan said of the derisive public reaction to their involvement in farm labour.

A local farmer in his sixties said his neighbour Abdul Ahad was a teacher at the Hazrat-i-Ali Middle School in Dara-e-Nirkh. Ahad brought groups of students for doing demanding jobs, charged Habibullah from the Bani Siwak village. "If I were a teacher like Ahad, I would have been able to employ pupils for sowing wheat and digging out potatoes," he exclaimed.

Deeply worried over the sorry state of affairs, several parents said the situation had not been remedied despite repeated complaints lodged with school administrations. Khadim Hussain claimed his son, a seventh class student at the Hazrat-i-Ali Middle School, was often sent to work on teachers farms. "My son can't write his name, because his teachers themselves dont know anything and frequently remain away from classes."

Students defying the unlawful orders are meted out harsh punishments. Twelve-years-old Abiduddin, a student of the Newi High School, grumbled he was ordered to sow wheat on a teachers farms two years back. He played hooky due to the sizzling heat and his inexperience. "I did not go to school for several days, knowing well the principal would award me ruthless punishment.

Twelve-grader Muhammad Ibrahim - enrolled in the same school - is unsure of his ability to pursue higher studies. He is not prepared to qualify the entry test. During the entire academic session, he was taught only 30 pages of a 190-page geometry book.

Newi High School Principal Muhammad Shah Murtazavi admitted the plight of students. But he hastened to assert his determination to stop teachers using pupils for personal chores. This scribe also saw a school employee plough the principals fields with his own oxen. The employee was apparently scared on seeing the reporter and requested not to be named. He said the principal had 15 acres of land but no sharecropper, because most of the farming was done by students. "For all practical purposes, Im a servant of the principal."

Murtazavi also came clean on the lingering issue, saying he had a lot of administrative work and, therefore, asked the employee to till his fields. The servant had special ploughing skills, he concluded.


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Publication:Pajhwok Afghan News (Kabul, Afghanistan)
Date:Aug 1, 2008
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