A secret online school has been launched in Afghanistan for girls older than 12 who were banned from returning to class by the Taliban government.
Despite the risks, the Learn Afghanistan charity set up the programme for 100 girls this month, specialising in the Stem subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Details of the operation remain a secret to protect the staff and students but the project offers classes three times a week on digital literacy, coding, building websites and graphic design.
One of the teachers, Nazifa Rahmati, 25, said that she was committed to the project but feared repercussions.
“We are all very worried, especially in terms of women’s access to education,” she said. “That’s why this programme is important. I’m a computer science graduate and I was unable to find a course like this so I’m glad to be able to offer this to the next generation of girls and serve my community.”
The programme is also teaching girls how to seek out learning tools so they can find their own ways to study.
“An educated mother ensures her children are educated,” Rahmati said. “Delivering services in the community is not only the responsibility of a man, women are also a big part of that.”
Since the Taliban takeover, boys of all ages have been allowed to return to school but girls have been forced to remain at home. Some provinces have acted independently and started to welcome older girls back to class but the Kabul administration’s official policy has not changed.
Saeed Khosty, the Interior Ministry spokesman, told Al Jazeera, however, that the Ministry of Education would soon announce the return of girls to secondary schools. “In a very short time all the universities and schools will be reopened and all the girls and women will return to school,” he said.
One girl among the 100 chosen to attend the online school said that she was delighted. “It is an awful situation we are facing,” the aspiring engineer said. “I’m so sad that boys can continue but I cannot. I was so happy and excited to be able to attend this course.”
Pashtana Durrani, 23, launched the educational charity in 2018 to help girls in rural areas. “Schools are not functioning and there has been no action on it,” she said. “We are educating 100 girls who will be the future of Afghanistan. Through tablets, they study collectively and are given homework throughout the week. We have female teachers with expertise in these areas.”
Learn Afghanistan also started two other projects this month — access to free healthcare for pregnant women and new mothers.
“We have hired two doctors who are providing free healthcare services to those most in need,” Durrani said.
The charity is also helping widowed women, many of whom are forced to beg in the street.
“We give them groceries and provide training on tailoring clothes or setting up greenhouses so they can create small businesses they can run from their homes,” Durrani said. “We’re hoping to focus on 100 families but I’m worried my funds might run dry.”