CAPA, Student News

Afghan University Students Enroll Online at Bennington

Lika Torikashvili '22 and Bennington College's Center for the Advancement of Public Action welcome Afghan students to Bennington online.

Image of two women moderating

As an aftermath of Taliban’s August 15 takeover and the collapse of the previous Afghan government, 32 of the country’s public universities remained closed up until February 2022. Nearly half of the professors lost their jobs, thousands of students were driven out of education. The news reported about the problem of Afghan girls not being able to attend schools, but the issue of Afghan university students had been left out of the media spotlight. 

In order to build on advocacy efforts for Afghanistan, and help the United Nations listen to the youth of Afghanistan, Lika Torikashvili '22, founder of the Network of Former Youth Delegates to the United Nations, together with the former UN Youth Delegate of Afghanistan Aisha Khurram, co-organized a meeting of Afghan students from different provinces of Afghanistan with the United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake. 

The purpose of the meeting was to create a space where young Afghan students could have a voice to share their stories and present practical solutions on how to resolve the education crisis in the country, discuss the possibility of providing online education to Afghan youth, and inform members of the Network and potential stakeholders about the current situation of higher education in Afghanistan to help shape future interventions. 

Afghan students joined the online meeting from different provinces of Afghanistan and delivered speeches, sharing concerns regarding the current situation and practical solutions on what can be done to help solve the education crisis. Among the guests attending the meeting to listen to the Afghan students were the United Nations Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake; Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Slovakia to the United Nations, UNICEF’s Executive Board for 2022 Vice President H.E. Michal Mlynar, UNFPA Afghanistan’s Youth Community Mobilization Specialist Bothania Qama, Bandetta Roux and Marion Detjen from Bard College Berlin in Germany, Susan Sgorbati and Noah Coburn, from Bennington College Center for the Advancement for Public Action, and Sybille Wuestemann and Anna-Monika Lauter from Gerda Henkel Foundation. Current and Former UN Youth Delegates and Members of the Network of Former Youth Delegates to the United Nations were also present at the meeting.

Some of the commitments requested at the meeting were the following:

  • Attention must be given to teachers’ salaries in Afghanistan, especially females. More female teachers must be included in the educational system.
  • The establishment of educational centers with internet and computer where students can participate in online education. A suggestion was made to use the UN offices in Afghanistan for this purpose. There are universities in Europe and the United States that are interested to contribute and provide educational opportunities for Afghan students inside the country, if a serious challenge of logistics and internet is resolved with the help of UN agencies on the ground.
  • Equal access to education for both male and female students is critical. 
  • Lobby for UN Youth envoy scholarships for Afghan Students. 

Immediately after the meeting, Lika Torikashvili connected Afghan students with Bennington College to request their participation in online classes.

As a result, one of the achievements of the meeting is that Afghan students are participating in online education at Bennington College during the Spring 2022 term. The students can transfer the credits received from Bennington to other universities. This was made possible by generous support from Susan Sgorbati, Noah Coburn, and Andrea Galindo in collaboration with the Bennington College Center for the Advancement for Public Action.

The Network of Former Youth Delegates to the United Nations is committed to continue its advocacy for education in Afghanistan. The Network hopes that more American universities will follow Bennington’s example and open up their online classes for Afghan Students. As one of the speakers from Kabul mentioned in the meeting, “We are Afghan youths, deeply shaken, yet proudly stubborn when it comes to education.” The youth of Afghanistan are eager to return to education and stop the education crisis in the country. The world must support these young people, because we can not afford to lose another generation of change-makers, inventors, scientists and peace-makers.

The Network of Former Youth Delegates to the United Nations is a youth organization founded by Lika Torikashvili and Ramiz Bakhtiar, the former youth delegates of Georgia and Afghanistan to the United  Nations. The organization’s mission is to unite young leaders from around the world to join efforts and use diplomacy and partnerships to assist the UN in achieving the Sustainable Development Agenda. The Network extensively advocates for youth and children in Afghanistan ever since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, and have sent an Open Letter to the United Nations Secretary General calling for the protection of youth and children. The letter contributed to the adoption of the UN Human Rights Council’s Resolution to appoint the Special Rapporteur on Afghanistan to monitor the human rights situation.