Education makes comeback in Afghanistan

Under Taliban few had access to learning and it was under poor conditions

By Sediq Amarkhil


KABUL, Afghanistan - After years of the Taliban regime limiting education, schooling in Afghanistan has made a substantial comeback since the militants' ouster. But the country still has much more to do.

Decades of war, civil unrest and political instability destroyed basic social services in the country. Education was one casualty. Now the country has a plan to further improve the system by 2020.

It needs one. In 2002, the new government inherited a broken education system. Fewer than a million students and 20,000 teachers — and almost no females — were involved in schooling. The country has more than 12m children 14 and younger, according to 2009 estimates.

“Since 2002, the country has seen a sevenfold increase in the enrolment of students. The recruitment and training of large numbers of teachers, and the construction of several thousand schools, have ensured improved access”, Education Minister Farooq Wardak told Central Asia Online.

Wardak said the country has seen major progress in enhancing the quality of education.

“Nearly 7m children are enrolled in schools; around 37 percent, or 2.5m, of them are girls”, he said.

Other improvements include the construction of 4,500 school buildings that provide better and safer learning environments and more than an eightfold increase in the number of teachers to 170,000, 30 percent of whom are female, he said.

Jamila, a teacher at Malalai High School in Kabul whose husband was killed in the civil war, said, “We are very happy with the current situation of education in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban regime, females were not allowed to teach or learn”.

Under the Taliban, there were no standard national curriculum or textbooks; only four Teacher Training Centres (TTCs) with 400 students; and only 1,500 boys enrolled in technical and vocational schools. There were 220 unregulated madrassas that lacked a formal curriculum.

According to the education ministry figures, 42 TTCs are active now, with at least one per province, and they have male and female boarding facilities.

“There are 42 Centres of Educational Excellence with registered madrassas”, Assadullah, a madrassa student, said. “Before, people used to go to Pakistan for Islamic studies, but now we are happy that the Ministry of Education provides facilities for Islamic studies here in Afghanistan”.

Nationally, many schools have reopened.

“Of 673 schools closed because of the insurgency, 217 have been reopened during the last six months, providing access to over 180,000 students and 3,000 teachers”, said Deputy Minister of Education Mohammad Sediq Patman.

To promote community ownership of the education system, more than 8,500 school shuras have been established. The shuras secure the schools against militants.

The Education Ministry still faces challenges, including high numbers of out-of-school children and youth, gender and rural/urban disparities, the low quality of education and administrative issues.

According to Education Ministry figures, about 42 percent — 5m of the estimated 12m school-aged children — still lack access to education. More than 5,000 schools lack usable buildings, boundary walls, safe drinking water or sanitation facilities. Long walking distances to school and unsafe learning environments impede female participation.

The gender disparity is still a big problem in some areas. No female students are enrolled in grades 10 to 12 in 200 of 412 urban and rural districts; 245 out of 412 urban and rural districts do not have a single qualified female teacher; and 90 percent of qualified female teachers are in the nine major urban centres (Kabul, Herat, Nangrahar, Mazar, Badakhshan, Takhar, Baghlan, Jozjan and Faryab).

Other problems are that 446 schools are still closed or have been damaged in the past two years, depriving 300,000 students of schooling, and about 11m adults are illiterate.

“Our education system needs to train the new generation of a professional work force who can take the political, social and economic leadership of the country without much reliance on international assistance”, said Patman.

The 2020 education targets include:

• To increase the net enrolment of girls and boys in basic education to 75 percent and 60 percent, respectively, by March 2015. To increase the gross enrolment rate of disabled and Kuchi children in basic education to 60 percent and 50 percent for boys and girls, respectively.

• To increase the net enrolment rate in secondary schools of boys and girls to 53 percent and 36 percent, respectively, by March 2015. To increase the gross enrolment rate in secondary schools of disabled and Kuchi boys and girls to 35 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

• To train 60,000 existing teachers and enhance their education to grade 14 in the relevant subject by March 2015.

• To train 50,000 graduates of grade 12 (with 45 percent females) from regions in need of professional teachers and educate them through pre-service programmes as professional teachers in needed subjects by March 2015.

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