Lailuma Khaliqyar, a school principal, standing among students at Um-Salma high school in Parvan, Afghanistan

How did female principal transform a high school in Afghanistan?

Lailuma Khaliqyar, who is a female principal in an all-girl high school in northern Parvan province, has come a long way to change locals’ attitudes toward her job.  

Almost all students of Um-Salma High School in the northern Parvan province were least enthusiastic to continue and graduate high school before the appointment a new school principal. With a high dropout ratio, the crumbling Um-Salma girls’ school was losing students and the school environment looked inert to most students up until summer 2012.                 

In a sunny summer day of 2012, students lined up to welcome a new female principle in the male-dominated board of an all-girl school: Lailuma Khaliqyar. When she joined the board of Um-Salma High School, general perception about the future of her work at the school was less optimistic. Most locals were of the opinion that she, like her predecessor, would not be able to resist against threats posed by strongmen, but surprising to public perception, Lailuma Khaliqyar not only stood firm to run Um-Salma High School but also transformed it.            

From 500, the number of school students raised up to 1,600. Most notable, as many as 47 students graduated from the school in 2018, and 27 of them were enrolled in universities across the country. Um-Salma school is the only girl high school with a lab and computer class in the province.  

Ramzia and Humaira are two siblings who walk five kilometers every day to attend their school classes. They are passionate about education and inspired by their principle Lailuma. “I am very interested in school and want to be a doctor in the future,” said Humaira.

To make things changed, Lailuma Khaliqyar has come a long way. With a bachelor degree in education, she graduated from Kabul Educational University before the Taliban took control over the capital Kabul. In 1997, Lailuma was forced to flee Kabul for Iran. She returned to her home country after the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. For a short time, she taught in the capital Kabul but financial hardship made her pack their bags and get settled in Parvan province where her husband has field.

Settlement in Parvan gifted golden opportunity to Lailuma Khaliqyar. In Parvan, she joined a school, teaching there, and got enrolled in Parvan University.  Her hard work paid off and the provincial directorate of education appointed her as principal of Mir Ali Ahmad School, an all-boy school in the province. But local strongmen stopped her on her way to university and forced her to give up school.

The directorate of education announced a vacancy for principal-ship in an all-girl school in provincial capital of Parvan province. She applied for the vacant post, attended the exam for the job and scored the highest marks. Lailuma became the second female principal of girl Um-Salma School.

After her appointment as principal, local strongmen came up threatening her to give up on the school. “I was told that they would cut off my head and my legs,” said Lailuma.

“The local strongmen told me to leave my job and hand it over to a male principal,”

she recalled.

Despite threats, however, she pushed back to continue her job. The local government, local community, her husband, and parents of the students stood up to protect and support her.  

Lailuma Khaliqyar is sitting in her office

Lailuma’s opponents however took a different approach, spreading rumors against her and encoding her students not to attend school. “I remember one of my students saying that a mullah in her locality was preaching against girls’ education,”  she recalled.

Lailuma wrote to the local mullah calling on him to talk over girls’ education in a public debate. The mullah refused to debate about the topic but he stopped speaking against girls’ education.

“Since Lailum has taken the job, the school has become a role model in the province,” said Sayed Yaha, the only male teacher at the school.

“The reforms and changes brought by Lailuma have revolutionized the school.”

Yahya says.

During her service as school principal, she established contacts with five international charities to gain supports for the school. Afghan-German association built a water reservoir. CARE International and Barak fund additional classes of the school. UNICEF and Promote pay the salaries of temporary teachers at the school.

She has also established a lab and computer class, which are unique in the area. Initiated a campaign for library, she collected as many as 3,900 books for school library. Now the school stands high in the province. Students play football, volleyball, and basketball. They have formed a painting group.

“I want to connect my students with the world through internet,” Lailuma explained her future plans. “I want them learn about online learning, robots and technology.”