Photos have emerged in Afghanistan showing rows of high-school students sitting on the snowy ground to take the annual university entrance exams. The photographs, taken in Daykundi province in the centre of Afghanistan, have nothing to do with social distancing due to Covid-19.
Students in rural parts of Afghanistan have been taking exams in the snow for years simply because the regions lack infrastructures such as exam halls and even chairs. Residents say the problem is especially acute in regions like Daykundi that are home to members of the long-persecuted Hazara ethnic group.
While the season of university entrance exams has not yet officially begun in Afghanistan, in some rural regions officials are holding the exams early, citing logistical problems and lack of manpower.
The latest images from Daykundi were posted on Twitter on March 6 by Arif Rahmani, an opposition MP and member of Afghanistan’s Enlightenment Movement, a Hazara rights group that emerged during the 2016 protests over the cancellation of a major electricity project. “The current government exhibits ethnic and tribal discrimination that will never be forgotten,” Rahmani wrote in a caption with the photos.
The phenomenon is far from new. Photos are published every year of university candidates participating in the national exams, sitting outside in the snow, sometimes in chairs, but often not.
Many Afghans say they have a hard time understanding why their schools remain so poorly equipped given that the country has received more than $137 billion in US reconstruction aid since 2002.
In this series of tweets, Afghans share recollections about taking exams in the snow. The first tweet, in the Dari language, shows exams taking place in Daykundi province in March 2021.
'Pashtun-dominated governments have paid little attention to these regions'
Ahmad [Not his real name] is a human rights activist in Afghanistan. He explains the situation:
Afghanistan’s annual university entrance exams must be held in the presence of agents from the Afghanistan National Examination Authority, who are dispatched from Kabul. That’s why the exams are held as early as possible. In the central and northeastern regions, which are notably less developed than the rest of the country, the logistics are complicated.
There are usually many candidates in these regions, such as Daykundi and Bamyan provinces in the centre, Takhar and Badakhshan in the northeast. But in many areas, there are no large buildings capable of accommodating the students with the required space between them. Or there might be insufficient electricity to provide illumination. And often the local schools don’t even have enough chairs for the students taking the exams.
Obviously, it’s not fair. There's a huge difference between a candidate who is sitting on a chair inside and warm and someone else who is sitting on his bottom in the freezing cold.
Unfortunately, these underdeveloped regions are not majority-Pashtun. [Editor’s note: of Afghanistan’s 31 million or so residents, 42% are Pashtun, 27% Tajik, 9% Hazara, 9% Uzbek, 4% Aimak, 3% Turkmen, and 2% Baloch]
Successive Pashtun-dominated governments have paid little attention to these regions, and current President Ashraf Ghani’s government is even worse than his predecessors. While in other regions many things have changed and developed, nothing in these regions has changed for decades. This makes people angry because they believe they are being neglected because of ethnic discrimination.
President Ghani cancelled an electrical grid project in 2016 that was supposed to bring electricity to these regions. The cancellation of the project ended up leading to the creation of the Enlightenment Movement, a nationwide mobilisation against his government.
The development portion of Afghanistan’s budget is about $1.8 billion per year, 12 percent of which is supposed to be spent on education. But according to a 2017 report by Afghanistan’s Supreme Audit Office, millions of dollars are missing from the Afghan budget and no one knows where and how the Afghan government spent it.
The corruption index of Afghanistan is one the highest in the world, somewhere between 180 to 165 in the world.