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Pandemic Halts Schooling for Afghan Students

Afghan girl students cover their faces with scarfs as they walk inside the compound of their school after it was reopened, which was earlier closed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Herat on Aug. 23, 2020.
Afghan girl students cover their faces with scarfs as they walk inside the compound of their school after it was reopened, which was earlier closed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Herat on Aug. 23, 2020.

Students in Afghanistan have lacked access to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, as schools have remained closed and the virus has not been controlled.

"The real tragedy is that over 3,000 students in Kabul who come from poor families simply do not have the ability to pursue online education during the pandemic when schools are closed," said Aziz Royesh, a teacher and founder of the Marefat High School in Kabul.

"They don't have the internet or mobiles. And even if they did, Kabul has electricity for only a few hours a day," he explained.

Royesh is one of the top 10 finalists worldwide, of 5,000 nominees, for the prestigious Global Teacher Prize of the Varkey Foundation in London. He was able to attend school until age 10, when he fled to Pakistan after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

Schools in Afghanistan shut down in March 2020, when the COVID-19 virus sparked a pandemic, leaving 10 million students out of school. Of these, 300,000 were public and private university students.

A doctor fills a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center, in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 11, 2021.
A doctor fills a syringe with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center, in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 11, 2021.

Not all have internet, electricity

Students in big cities such as Kabul and Herat have better security and a few hours of electricity most days, and more privileged students have access to the internet, although it is often weak and unreliable. But in the countryside, students do not have the same security, power is very limited and the internet is almost nonexistent, they report.

According to Save the Children, this is in addition to the 3.7 million who were not in school prior to COVID-19. Across six Afghan provinces, only 28.6% of children can access distance learning programs through TV; 13.8%, through the radio; and 0.2%, through the internet.

Schools reopened in September 2020 and then closed for the winter break in November. They reopened in March 2021, only to be shut down again for two weeks in May 2021 in 16 of 34 provinces, including Kabul, because of further outbreaks.

Students lack access to the internet. The World Bank estimates that only 14% of Afghans use the internet.

Rona Yousufi, a rising Afghan junior at Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, said when the pandemic started, students were forced to leave campus immediately. She moved back to Kabul to continue her education online.

"I missed the first week of classes until I got Wi-Fi in my home, but the connection was really poor with consistent power outages. I missed most of my classes, and one hour of homework took me up to two to three hours to do because of the poor connection," Yousufi said.

But she said she is one of the luckier ones. She could continue her education online, while many students who attend her university could not because they come from poor families and cannot afford Wi-Fi.

"There are around 150 Afghan students who go to this university, and 60 to 70 of these were able to access Wi-Fi. The rest had to halt their education until they returned to the university," Yousufi said.

"I have a big family. My parents, five sisters and a brother and I live in a small two-bedroom house. I share a room with my six siblings, and I don't have any place to study and take my classes. I get disrupted during my classes by my younger brother and sisters. The lack of electricity is another challenge. I stay up all night waiting for electricity to come back so I can get some work done."

A teacher talks with students at a coffee shop in the Kardan University in Kabul, June 15, 2021.
A teacher talks with students at a coffee shop in the Kardan University in Kabul, June 15, 2021.

'I will be a year behind'

Mohammad Reza Nazari, a recent high school graduate in Kabul, is struggling to get an education during COVID-19. He was taking English classes at Star Educational Society when the center shut down, putting a stop to his education.

"I was taking a TOFEL class to pass the exam and apply for schools abroad, but unfortunately the limited electricity and poor Wi-Fi connection prevented me from doing online study," he said, referring to the Test for English as a Foreign Language that many U.S. colleges and universities require for acceptance.

"I get really sad and depressed when I remember that I will be a year behind other students my age," he said.

Khodadad Jafari from Daikundi, Afghanistan, is a student at Star Educational Society. He moved to Kabul three years ago to learn English so he could study abroad and find a part-time job to support himself and his family back in his village.

"I came to Kabul with a lot of hope, but I had to return to the village with all my wishes destroyed," Jafari said.

He tried to stay in his village, but his drive to get an education led him back to Kabul.

"I have access with my mobile to some phone data in Kabul that I did not have at home. I learn English by watching YouTube videos and from websites, but I have limited data and resources," Jafari said.

Maryam Darwish is a high school senior in Kabul. Since her school shut down, she has found it hard to study by herself.

"I can study social studies, but I need someone to help me with science and math. I try to spend my day drawing, reading fiction and going over my social studies books," Darwish said. "I want to continue my education online, but I am always worried and sleepless."

"It's hard to overstate the impact that COVID has had on the continuity of education in Afghanistan. So many students lost nearly all of 2020 to school closures, and now schools are closed again for the foreseeable future," said Shabana Basij-Rasikh, co-founder of the School of Leadership, Afghanistan, in Kabul.

"SOLA, as a boarding school, is fortunate in that we've been able to institute health and safety procedures that have allowed us to operate throughout this year without any outbreaks on our campus, but our model is unique in Afghanistan," she said. "COVID is the great thief that has robbed millions, literally millions, of Afghan girls and boys of their education."

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More than 70 U.S. universities continue to hold human remains taken from Native American burial sites, although those remains were supposed to be returned 30 years ago.

Jennifer Bendery writes in Huffington Post that one senator has been using his position in an attempt to shame universities into returning remains and artifacts. (April 2024)

COVID forced one international student to go hungry

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When Samantha (not her real name) enrolled in community college in the U.S., her family at home in South Africa scrimped and saved to support her.

But the COVID-19 pandemic hurt the family’s finances, and at one point Samantha had four on-campus jobs just to make ends meet. Many in the U.S. believe international students are wealthy sources of funding for universities, but stories like Samantha’s suggest otherwise.

Andrea Gutierrez reports for The World. (March 2024)

Tips for paying for a STEM degree as an international student

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For US News & World Report, Melanie Lockert describes how to calculate the cost of a STEM degree, and where to find funding. (March 2024)

NAIA all but bans its transgender college athletes from women's sports

FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.
FILE - NAIA women’s basketball players gather after a game in St. Louis, Feb. 22, 2024. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, said Monday that transgender athletes would be all but banned from women's sports.

The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, the governing body for mostly small colleges, announced a policy Monday that all but bans transgender athletes from competing in women's sports.

The NAIA's Council of Presidents approved the policy in a 20-0 vote. The NAIA, which oversees some 83,000 athletes at schools across the country, is believed to be the first college sports organization to take such a step.

According to the transgender participation policy, all athletes may participate in NAIA-sponsored male sports but only athletes whose biological sex assigned at birth is female and have not begun hormone therapy will be allowed to participate in women's sports.

A student who has begun hormone therapy may participate in activities such as workouts, practices and team activities, but not in interscholastic competition.

"With the exception of competitive cheer and competitive dance, the NAIA created separate categories for male and female participants," the NAIA said. "Each NAIA sport includes some combination of strength, speed and stamina, providing competitive advantages for male student-athletes. As a result, the NAIA policy for transgender student-athletes applies to all sports except for competitive cheer and competitive dance, which are open to all students."

There is no known number of transgender athletes at the high school and college levels, though it is believed to be small. The topic has become a hot-button issue for those for and against transgender athletes competing on girls' and women's sports teams.

At least 24 states have laws barring transgender women and girls from competing in certain women's or girls sports competitions. Last month, more than a dozen current and former college athletes filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA, accusing the sports governing body for more than 500,000 athletes of violating their rights by allowing transgender women to compete in women's sports.

The Biden administration originally planned to release a new federal Title IX rule — the law forbids discrimination based on sex in education — addressing both campus sexual assault and transgender athletes. But earlier this year, the department decided to split them into separate rules, and the athletics rule now remains in limbo even as the sexual assault policy moves forward.

Hours after the NAIA announcement, the NCAA released a statement: "College sports are the premier stage for women's sports in America and the NCAA will continue to promote Title IX, make unprecedented investments in women's sports and ensure fair competition for all student-athletes in all NCAA championships."

The NCAA has had a policy for transgender athlete participation in place since 2010, which called for one year of testosterone suppression treatment and documented testosterone levels submitted before championship competitions. In 2022, the NCAA revised its policies on transgender athlete participation in an attempt to align with national sport governing bodies, following the lead of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

The three-phase implementation of the policy included a continuation of the 2010 policy, requiring transgender women to be on hormone replacement therapy for at least one year, plus the submission of a hormone-level test before the start of both the regular season and championship events.

The third phase adds national and international sport governing body standards to the NCAA's policy and is scheduled to be implemented for the 2024-25 school year on August 1.

There are some 15.3 million public high school students in the United States and a 2019 study by the CDC estimated 1.8% of them — about 275,000 — are transgender. The number of athletes within that group is much smaller; a 2017 survey by Human Rights Campaign suggested fewer than 15% of all transgender boys and transgender girls play sports.

The number of NAIA transgender athletes would be far smaller.

Humanities degrees are tougher sell for international students 

FILE - People walk near the campus center at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., Dec. 9, 2013.
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That’s the argument of one Princeton undergraduate from South Korea.

OPT, the government program that allows college students to work in the US for a short time after graduation without securing a work visa, is biased toward STEM degree holders.

As a result, many international students forego humanities, or choose tech or consulting jobs when their passions lie elsewhere.

Read Siyeon Lee’s argument in the Princetonian. (March 2024)

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