Afghanistan’s Education Post Taliban
Post 9/11/2001, Afghanistan’s education system has been as convoluted as its politics. There have been many internal struggles as well as external players. As soon as Karzai’s government was placed in power it began to reform education in order to differentiate itself from the Taliban, hoping to appear progressive. In the political context where power is fragmented across the nation, the Afghan government inherited a completely defunct education system, which has been placed in a state of dependency with the United States and its allies who influence both policy-making and the new regime. According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, the Taliban era has left the educational system the following legacies:
- Less than one million students, 20,000 teachers with almost no female participation.
- 34, 00 schools–majority with unusable buildings.
- No standard national curriculum or textbooks.
- Only four Teacher Training Colleges with 400 students.
- Only 1500 boys enrolled in Technical and Vocational Schools, and
- 220 unregulated Madrassas without any formal curriculum.
After 13 years, how substantial is the change? How meaningful is education and what is the quality of education? These questions are difficult to answer and, while Afghanistan continues to face many challenges such as basic safety and security, it also has (according to the UNDP) a literacy rate that is “one of the lowest in the world.” While primary completion rates have gradually improved, the statistics show that in 2012:
- 8.6 millions of children and youth are attending schools (over 5.29 million boys, and over 3.35 million girls).
- Hundreds of thousands attend universities, and similarly tens of thousands are accessing literacy classes and vocational training.
- While gender gaps and disparity still persist, access to education for girls and women has significantly improved over the years.
Again, though the numbers show quite an improvement, there is still a long road ahead. Some of these challenges, such as Afghanistan’s gender divide, continue to persist: “While 66 percent of girls attend primary school, compared with 92 percent of boys, the share of girls attending secondary school drops to 26 percent. Across the country, the growth in enrollment rates has been uneven. For example, over the past decade, nearly 350,000 girls have completed high school. In Kandahar, the country’s fifth-most-populous province, there are only 4,027 female high school graduates” (Mashal 2014).
Other challenges include poverty, health, lack of teachers and teacher training facilities and most importantly lack of security. While “more than 30% of primary school-aged children are still out of school… even children who attend school still struggle to read and perform basic math” (Albright 2013). Despite all the odds, Afghans continue to struggle. Recently I had a chance to interview an Afghan Fulbright student, Hamid Akbary, who is currently pursuing his graduate studies in Sociology. He seems quite optimistic and reminds me that the youth of Afghanistan are hopeful.
Hamid states that just during his years he has seen a significant growth in children’s access to school. Many universities and colleges that were closed during the Taliban era have reopened, allowing greater freedom of thought. He states that students have the freedom to “express their ideas and use creativity in their skills and expression of new ideas and intellectual discussions.” He continues that this freedom of thought is the key for young Afghans to “play a role in moving the country forward to a free society through media, student organizations, and other democratic ways.” Although he does acknowledge the aforementioned challenges, his optimism seems to be contagious!
Albright, A. In Afghanistan, Teachers and Children Go to School Despite Real Danger
Baiza, Y. (2013) Education in Afghanistan, Developments, Influences and Legacies Since 1901. Routledge, Routledge Studies in Middle Eastern Society, United Kingdom
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Ministry of Education website http://moe.gov.af/en/page/2021
Mashal, M. (2014) An Afghan Town Gets its First Female High-School Graduates. http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/2/8/even-at-graduationtimeafghangirlsovershadowedbyboys.html
United Nations Millennium Development Goals for Afghanistan http://www.us.undp.org/content/afghanistan/en/home/mdgoverview/overview/mdg2/
Really positive progress! Well done Afghanistan!