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Editorial: Hardly-hit education sector

As the COVID-19 is becoming more and more prevalent in Afghanistan with the total number of positive cases around 145 now – including four deaths – Afghanistan is being affected from multiple fronts. The Afghan government took the extreme measure of announcing a three-week lockdown in capital Kabul in a bid to contain the fast pace and spread of the coronavirus. Nevertheless, the lockdown move didn’t hinder Afghan wagers and laborers – who earn a steady daily income to make ends meet – as they are defying and keeping the city busy with a fear that poverty will kill them and not the virus. In addition to the negative impacts of the coronavirus on trade and business activities, the educational sector in the country has been also hardly hit. With the outbreak of the novel virus, schools and education institutes – which had already been closed for a few months as part of winter vacation – have been advised to remain closed until 19th April. However, given the scale and spread of transmission of the virus, it seems they would remain closed beyond April. There has been so far only a general direction that some of such institutes should continue imparting knowledge to students using online means. While using technology cannot serve as a complete substitute for teacher, it has the potential to at least help teachers in supervising student learning at home during this time of closure and emergency. But there has been no clear plan about how this should be done. Afghan people aren’t that well off to pay for internet prices, which are unreasonably high here. The government needs to devise a scheme for addressing the issues arising in this regard so that the provision of education can progress smoothly. Providing students and teachers with required phone credit for activating internet packages is one way to go about it. Moreover, the telecom service providers can also perform their duty to Afghans at this time of hardship. They should grant free internet data to educational institutions and schools or at least lower their prices for that matter. On the other hand, in coping with the virus, our country is faced with a lack of monetary resources. Besides struggling with a depleted health infrastructure, the public health minister has said that Afghanistan needed $100 million for combating the virus but the ministry had merely $18 million in its possession, which according to him, “is nothing.” On top of this, the US warning of slashing $1 billion in aid has already started showing its effects. The government is seemingly applying an austerity policy as it doesn’t allow leniency in taxes collection despite the lockdown. Crowded cues of business owners could be seen at government tax office in Herat province. At this juncture, due to the one billion dollars caution, the government is panicking and instead of thinking of helping the poor Afghans with incentives and financial packages to stay at home, it is preoccupied with filling the void to be caused by the reduction of one billion dollars. Given the status quo as financial pressures are gradually originating from the spread of the coronavirus, the international community should come to the rescue of Afghans by providing financial and technical assistance and thus avoid a disproportionate human catastrophe.

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