The Critical Situation of Education in Afghanistan

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Over three decades of conflict have had a detrimental effect on Afghanistan’s educational system. School-aged girls have been especially affected, as the Taliban regularly used violence and coercion to prevent them from attending school and engaging in their education. In 2001, there were no girls formally attending schools in Afghanistan, and only one million boys were in school. Numbers have since been increasing, though the country’s education system is still significantly underdeveloped.

Throughout decades of Taliban regime, schools and other public buildings were demolished, making it extremely difficult for children to continue their education. However, after the Taliban fell from power in 2001, organizations were finally able to begin reconstructing educational infrastructures.

That same year, UNICEF partnered with the Afghan Government to commence reconstruction throughout the country, and the two established a successful back-to-school campaign for students. Along with UNICEF and USAID, the Ministry of Education has been able to reconstruct over 13,000 schools across the region.

Thanks to UNICEF and other aid organizations, education rates have been rising tremendously over the last decade in Afghanistan. According to the World Bank, a total of 7.8 million children were enrolled in schools as of 2012, including 2.9 million girls.

However, despite the significant improvement to children’s education, Afghanistan’s educational sector still has a great number of problems to address. The country retains one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, with only 39 percent–and within that just 13 percent of adult women–reaching literacy.

Most believe that a key factor in these low literacy rates is Afghanistan’s severe lack of educators. The most recent statistics state that 170,000 teachers are currently working to educate over 8 million students. Among this small amount of teachers, only 24 percent are legally qualified for instruction, meaning that they completed two years of educational training after high school. In certain areas, the shortage of instructors is so severe that schools are employing teachers that have only passed sixth or seventh grade despite the fact that this is illegal.

Furthermore, the amount of female school instructors in Afghanistan is even lower, with women representing just 30 percent of teachers nationwide. Afghan girls face many obstacles when it comes to their education, including early marriage, conflict and inaccessibility to nearby schools. As a result, only 9.2 percent of girls reach secondary school, compared to 28 percent of boys.

While international aid has helped rebuild many schools across the nation, the system still lacks proper resources to provide a quality education. In addition to unqualified teachers, schools also face issues of overcrowding, which means that multiple students must share a desk, and up to ten must share a textbook. Most schools have resorted to operating on split shifts wherein students only receive three hours of instruction each day. While this makes up for the extreme overcrowding, the quality of education in Afghanistan is further weakened.

Child labor has also been a serious issue in Afghanistan, and it has hindered many children from receiving an education. According to UNICEF, approximately one quarter of children ages seven to 14 were working in 2007, with higher numbers occurring in more rural areas. Child labor makes it much more difficult for many to attend school, while it keeps some from education completely.

Recently, Afghanistan has seen a great deal of progress in its educational system. The amount of children enrolled in school has risen enormously, and literacy rates have improved by five percent. At the same time, students who are enrolled often fail to attend school on a regular basis due to outside obstacles like early marriage, child labor and security issues. Overall, if more children have the opportunity to achieve higher levels of education, Afghanistan will see greater numbers of educators, an overall improvement to the education system and higher literacy rates.

Meagan Douches

Sources: UN Dispatch, Global Issues, New York Times, UNICEF, USAID
Photo: NPR

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