The Imperative of Underground Schools: Nurturing Education in Afghanistan’s Turbulent Times

Since the Taliban took over on August 15, 2021, Afghanistan’s education system, among other deteriorating situations, has been severely impacted. In this backdrop, underground schools have emerged as a crucial means of resistance against the Taliban’s illegitimate occupation. Stripped of their most fundamental rights and nearly erased from society, women and girls have found hope for a brighter future through the underground education system. Female teachers bravely provide for their families, while students continue their education under the watchful eyes of the Taliban leadership, Haibatullah Akhundzada. This article explores why underground schools are currently the best option in Afghanistan.

1. Building a Knowledgeable Society Free of Extremist Ideologies:

Since the Taliban’s takeover, one of their paramount objectives in Afghanistan has been the expansion of their extremist madrassas, particularly in the northern provinces where their ideology faces the most resistance. To date, an alarming number of madrasas have been established in Badakhshan, Panjshir, and other northern regions, perpetuating their narrow and radical beliefs. However, their spread does not end there; they have unveiled their plans and have already begun to create a network of madrasas in all 34 provinces of Afghanistan.

In contrast, education plays a pivotal role in developing an informed and engaged citizenry. Underground schools, with their emphasis on critical thinking and open-mindedness, equip students with the tools to challenge extremist ideologies and foster a more progressive outlook. By instilling a love for learning and a thirst for knowledge, these schools lay the foundation for a more prosperous and harmonious society in Afghanistan.

Through these underground educational initiatives, students gain access to diverse perspectives, encouraging them to question rigid dogmas and consider alternative viewpoints. Such an education empowers young minds to contribute positively to their communities and envision a future for Afghanistan that embraces tolerance, inclusivity, and progress. In this way, underground schools play a crucial role in countering extremist narratives and nurturing a generation capable of shaping a brighter and more enlightened future for the nation.

2. Security and Safety:

On September 29, 2022, a few months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, a tragic event occurred that left a lasting impact on many both inside and outside the country. On a Friday morning, a suicide attacker entered one of the classes at the Kaaj educational center, carrying a bomb vest. Dozens of determined students who were preparing for their university entrance exams lost their lives, and many others were injured. Tragically, the majority of the victims were female students. Although the Taliban did not claim responsibility for this attack, many held them accountable due to their history of targeting schools and education centers prior to their takeover. During their previous regime, which lasted five years, women and girls were denied their right to education.

Underground schools provide a safer learning environment, shielded from the immediate threats of violence, and ensure children can access education without fear of harm.

3. Access to Education in Remote Areas:

In many far-flung regions of Afghanistan, accessing schools has been a struggle for numerous families. Challenges such as poor road conditions, extreme weather, the presence of road mines, and other factors compound the concerns of those residing in remote areas. As a result, families often hesitate to allow their daughters to travel long distances to schools.

Underground schools have emerged as essential platforms, bringing education to the doorsteps of these remote communities. By allowing both teachers and students to overcome environmental and societal limitations, these schools offer a lifeline for young girls and women to attain an education and transform their lives. Consequently, underground schools foster a more inclusive society, surpassing even the achievements of the republic era.

4. Preservation of Cultural Heritage:

Afghanistan boasts a rich cultural heritage that has faced unprecedented threats amid the turmoil of conflict, especially following the Taliban’s takeover. Over the past two years, the Taliban has made various attempts to erode the country’s cultural identity, from removing pictures of renowned Farsi poets from Kabul University walls to imposing restrictions on the use of the Farsi language in offices, all in an effort to create a divide between the people of Afghanistan and their cherished heritage.

Underground schools hold a unique position in safeguarding this cultural legacy. Besides teaching core subjects, these schools also prioritize cultural education, preserving Afghanistan’s traditions, languages, and history. Something which is not possible in madrasas or schools running under Taliban supervision. By nurturing a sense of identity and pride in their cultural heritage, these schools contribute significantly to the nation’s resilience and cohesion during these challenging times. As they impart knowledge about Afghanistan’s rich history, language, and artistic expressions, they empower students to embrace their heritage and become guardians of their cultural legacy against the backdrop of conflict and cultural erosion.

5. Community-Led Learning:

Underground schools are often grassroots initiatives driven by the community’s determination to educate their children despite the adversity they face. This localized approach fosters a strong sense of ownership and support from the community, ensuring that education remains a priority even amid difficult circumstances and together they break free from the chains of ignorance and prejudice of Taliban. 

6. Sparking International Support for Grassroots Empowerment:

In the ever-evolving landscape of Afghanistan, where regimes may rise and fall, the resilience and potential of grassroots movements remain undeniable. International organizations, governments, and individuals seeking effective ways to contribute have a unique and impactful avenue in the form of supporting grassroots initiatives, particularly the underground schools that are sprouting amid adversity.

In a realm where extremism threatens Afghanistan, underground schools stand as bastions of hope, resilience, and unity while all under the umbrella of safety. These covert centers of education embody the potency of grassroots movements, fueled by the unwavering resolve of communities in Afghanistan to safeguard learning and values that transcend the tumultuous tides of politics. The choice is clear: while one path promotes radicalization and exclusion, the other nurtures enlightenment and inclusivity. As the international community seeks avenues to promote global stability, supporting underground schools emerges as an imperative. Channeling support toward grassroots initiatives like underground schools offers compelling advantages: empowerment of the people through education, countering extremist narratives, tangible and community-centric impact, fostering hope and self-determination, and mitigating extremist influence. By investing in education that empowers critical thinking, cultural preservation, and tolerance, the world sends a powerful and the right type of message of solidarity with the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan. Thus, the backing of these educational sanctuaries becomes a radiant beacon not solely for Afghanistan but for the worldwide pursuit of harmony, resilience, and the unyielding struggle against terrorism.