Afghanistan Aims to Expand Access to Education

book educationAfter decades of conflict, Afghanistan has placed a major emphasis on expanding access to education, particularly among girls. The Afghan government, in collaboration with its international partners, has enjoyed a number of successes in this undertaking. Since 2001, the number of children in primary and secondary schools rose from 1 to 8.4 million. At the same time, about 3.3 million children (or just under a third of school-age children) still struggle with a lack of access to education. The majority of these 3.3 million children are girls. Afghanistan is also grappling with the challenge of a limited education in the adult population. Less than 7 percent of men over the age of 25 have completed any formal education, and this statistic drops to 3 percent for women.

A paper presented at the Oslo Education Summit in July outlined a number of key action items for continuing the expansion of education in Afghanistan. One of the most important initiatives focuses on developing teacher-training programs to increase the number of qualified teachers in schools. Since only females could traditionally teach girls, this often limits the number of girls who can receive an education, particularly in rural areas. More and better teacher-training opportunities would increase the pool of teachers for both boys and girls. Community-based organizations and NGOs could play a critical role in accomplishing this task moving forward.

Another key recommendation involves measures to strengthen the Afghan Ministry of Education. A solid infrastructure is necessary to keep track of the growing body of students in the country, especially in terms of creating and enforcing educational standards. The paper suggested that the ministry focus on better data collection and management systems, which could in turn improve coordination between the ministry and individual schools. Developing criteria for competency-based hiring is also an important task that the ministry faces. Increased collaboration and connections between the Ministry of Education and other government bodies may be productive avenues to explore in achieving these goals.

Security and societal attitudes are two additional hurdles. Girls and boys cannot attend school if they cannot travel there safely. Moreover, many Afghans in rural areas still believe that education is not beneficial for girls. Both of these struggles can by addressed by increasing community outreach and engaging individuals on the importance of education for both genders. When communities stand behind education, they can work together to increase security and ensure that all children are enrolled in school.