KABUL, Afghanistan — The faces in the classrooms in Afghanistan are changing. Females now make up about one-third of the children in the classroom. Approximately 36 percent of girls, numbering around 3.5 million, are going to school now as compared to 200,000 who attended in 2002. The number of boys enrolled in school has also increased from 1 million in 2002 to 5.3 million today.
The rise in attendance is due, in part, to large improvements to education facilities around the country. Rebuilding, expanding and updating schools provide students with a safer and more constructive environment for learning.
The Ministry of Education’s Education Quality Improvement Program has spearheaded the initiative for expanding education in Afghanistan, especially for girls. EQUIP is run by the Afghani government and is supported by many international organizations including the World Bank, Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund and UNICEF. Its goal is to increase access to education for children throughout the country. To achieve this, the program writes grants for schools, funds training for teachers and supplies textbooks. EQUIP has even been able to establish a national curriculum.
The growing number of children in school is a direct result of the government taking intentional steps to improve education in Afghanistan. This initiative is the strongest it has been in many years. EQUIP also has a specific focus to ensure families feel secure in sending their daughters to school. Improved building facilities help the people to trust more in the school. Increased training of female teachers also builds assurance because many families feel uncomfortable with male teachers instructing their daughters.
An example of the changing classroom environment can be seen in the Turabi Girl’s High School in the northern province of Mazar-e-Sharif. With the help of grants from EQUIP, the number of students has doubled to about 2,000 girls in the past several years. With the funds from the government, the school is now able to reach out into the community and advocate for the girls to attend.
The increase in female education in Afghanistan comes as a significant change from the past. With the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, females were not permitted to receive an education. The years of war following the Taliban rule largely destroyed the country’s infrastructure and social stability. And although the government today is taking initiative to change, problems still persist.
About 50 percent of schools still do not have proper building facilities. The teachers are also poorly trained, as about half of them did not complete high school. Other problems include large class sizes and limited access to schools in rural areas. Due to safety concerns and cost, children are less likely to attend if it is difficult for them to physically get to school. And despite the current improvements, the literacy rate for women is only 14 percent, one of the lowest in the world.
The work of EQUIP and its international partners intend to combat these problems. Enabling all Afghani women to receive an education is not an instantaneous process and will take time. However, with an increase in female education in Afghanistan comes an increased role for women to play within society. Literacy is the tool for them to procure more rights.