KABUL: Afghan Education Minister Rangina Hamidi has come under attack in the country’s parliament over a controversial plan to move primary school classes to mosques.
Hamidi announced the proposal on Sunday, saying that teaching children from classes one to three in mosques will “strengthen the Islamic identity of the students” and bring Afghanistan’s religious schools, or madrassas, into the mainstream.
However, many parliamentarians have reacted angrily to the plan, describing it as a “joke” and “totally illogical.”
“This goes against all of the realities of society,” MP Arif Rahmani told Arab News. “It is completely the wrong decision. We cannot use a mosque as a school and a school for normal education as a mosque.”
Despite the wave of criticism, Education Ministry spokeswoman Najiba Aryan said the plan will be implemented next year to help children in remote villages where access to schooling is limited.
“This is to help children who cannot walk long distances to reach schools. Official school curriculums, all subjects, will be enforced for children who will study instead in mosques,” she told Arab News.
“Official education ministry teachers will teach these children, and they will be registered and can go to normal schools for the fourth class,” Aryan said.
Afghanistan has more than 18,500 schools for about 8 million students.
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, who leads the High Council for National Reconciliation and shares power with President Ashraf Ghani, also condemned the plan.
“This decision is a mistake for many reasons. We have not helped the madrassas reach that level,” he said.
The development is another setback for the education minister, a US graduate, who over a week ago was criticized by parliamentarians for her lack of fluency in the country’s two main languages, Dari and Pashto. MPs called on her to leave office and urged Ghani to nominate another candidate.
After Hamidi announced her proposal, prominent Afghan political analyst Malik Stez wrote in a social media post that instead of children being sent to madrassas, the minister should be sent back to school “so that she learns how to read and write.”
However, other critics believe the move is part of the Ghani administration’s efforts to shore up its Islamic credentials amid faltering peace talks with the Taliban.
“The government wants to show that ‘we love Islam, we respect Islam and do all we can for it,’” analyst Wahidullah Ghazikhail said. “It wants to distract attention from the peace process and its other shortcomings.”
Ghazikhail described the education minister’s plan as “impractical, unrealistic and illogical.”
“A mosque has only one room, no blackboard and other resources like a normal school,” he said.
Ghani’s former adviser Abdul Sattar Saadat told Arab News that the push to teach children in mosques was “aimed reconciling mosque with school,” but cast doubt over the plan’s feasibility.
“It is a good measure, but it cannot be implemented logistically. Preachers will only allow Islamic-related discussions to take place in mosques, not other studies,” he said.
“Most of the mosques in the countryside and remote areas are under Taliban control, and since the legitimacy of the government and the piety of some of its leaders are already under question, many will look with doubt at this, too.”