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The Mosque -School program

The OFARIN Association was founded in 1996. OFARIN is the abbreviation of "Organisation for the Promotion of Afghan Regional Initiatives and Networks".
"OFARIN" means "Great!" or "Right".in the Afghan languages Dari and Paschtu
In 2001 OFARIN took over the program of elementary school education, which had been developed by Dr. Peter Schwittek since 1998. These lessons take place in mosques and private apartments and last 90 minutes a day. 30 minutes of it are religious education, for which the Ministry of Religious Affairs, OFARIN's partner ministry, is responsible.
The cooperation in the mosques is friendly and constructive. 100 years ago, the Afghan government, supported by citizens who wanted to modernise their country, tried to push through drastic reforms - compulsory military service, judicial reform, compulsory schooling - without convincing the population of the sense of these innovations. The Islamic clergy threatened to lose influence and took the lead among the opponents of reform. Bloody clashes followed - coup and expulsion of the communists, civil war of the victors, Taliban rule - which made it clear that progress can only be achieved in Afghanistan with the agreement of the mullahs. OFARIN shows that this is possible.
In 2006 OFARIN was awarded the Würzburg Peace Prize.
For beginners, lessons at OFARIN begin with an alphabetization course that takes up the whole hour of OFARIN's responsibility every day. After a good year the students can write and read with understanding. This means that the subsequent lessons can be largely supported by written teaching material. This relieves OFARIN's teachers, who themselves were only trained for their teaching activities.
Afterwards, thirty minutes of other writings, grammatical basic terms and alphabetical order are practiced daily in the continuing mother tongue lessons. In the other half hour mathematics is taught. Some geometric forms are covered and the basic arithmetic operations within the natural numbers are worked out.
OFARIN's teaching is supervised by permanently employed "trainers". They often visit the classes and report about them in the OFARIN office. They participate in the development of new teaching materials and prepare teachers for teaching new subject areas in seminars. The use of trainers makes OFARIN's programme relatively expensive. But the interaction of the trainers with the teachers on the basis of well-coordinated teaching material ensures a consistently high level of teaching.
It is planned to extend this program to a "primary school program" in which within six or eight years fractions and the rule of three, as well as the independent writing of reports and letters are practiced, so that graduates of this program have a solid basis for non-academic activities.
In 2017, 9,000 students attended classes. Then Misereor, the main donor, stopped supporting OFARIN. Justification: The security situation in Afghanistan made it too difficult for Misereor to send its own personnel to the projects. Teachers and trainers were dismissed. The wages had to be reduced. OFARIN could only teach about 4,000 students in Kabul, Logar, Pandschir and Parvan.
This situation showed what the program means for those affected. More than fifty dismissed teachers continued to work unpaid. The people wanted to preserve as much as possible of OFARIN's program for their homeland. After all, OFARIN's teaching is superior to any other teaching in Afghanistan. But the program also created hope and self-confidence among those affected and those around them.
OFARIN follows common sense in setting up the lesson: if a series of letters is taken and words can be formed, another letter can be introduced, and new words can be formed with that letter and any words introduced before it. If students can add two two-digit numbers in writing, they will also understand the written addition of more than two numbers and will easily learn to add three and four-digit numbers in writing. This is how OFARIN's entire teaching material is structured. New things are easy when the previous is mastered and when a new learning step does not overtax the students' ability to understand. This procedure is given in a "natural way". And it is successful.
On the other hand, the learning success of state schools is poor. High school graduates do not understand simple texts. Additions and subtractions of two-digit or multi-digit numbers are not successful. A provincial governor groans: No inhabitant of his province knows what the average of two numbers is.

The teaching in the areas under the control of the Kabul government is not hindered by political or religious forces. Western organisations such as US-AID or the German GIZ support it through teacher training and similar events. Nevertheless, the level of state schools and private schools is poor. The rules according to which the teachers have to work there are absurd: First class arithmetic lessons begin with the children learning to write the numbers 1 to 10 in letters - even before the necessary letters have been written in their mother tongue. The teacher is not allowed to take into account whether his students are "able" to write the material or not. If the teacher does not manage the material workload of the year (too many lessons cancelled due to political and religious holidays or for safety reasons), the missing material may not be made up in the next school year. Such regulations come from the Ministry of Education and not, as one might think, from a barracks yard. The Afghan education administration "cant do school". There are no specialists who could change that.
OFARIN, on the other hand, has proven to be able to organise successful school lessons. This ability obliges. Of course, the teaching of state schools cannot immediately be replaced by OFARIN lessons, such as the elementary school lessons outlined above. OFARIN's programme should be extended in content and geography. The program in its current size costs $200,000 a year. An additional $100,000 per year is to be budgeted for the expansion. More is unrealistic, because a lot of personnel has to be trained and material has to be worked out. After three to four years OFARIN's program would be so large that it would be publicly noticed. A discussion of the teaching methods would arise. Ways could be found to transform the state school system.

Randersacker, 21.8.2019 Peter Schwittek.


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