These 5 Organizations Want to Boost Literacy in Afghanistan

Development organizations all over the world point to literacy as one of the leading factors in helping individuals and societies build a better future. Improved literacy rates in emerging economies are linked to a broad range of other positive outcomes, including improved health, better earnings or economic progress, and increased political and civil society participation. Indeed, literacy is so important in the modern world that UNESCO has declared it to be a fundamental human right.

Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for nations to prioritize literacy in the face of significant obstacles. In Afghanistan, for example, decades of civil conflict have left the country with one of the world’s lowest literacy rates. According to current estimates, fewer than one in three adult Afghans (over the age of 15) can read and write.

In response to this, many organizations and individuals have launched initiatives, both large and small, aimed at boosting literacy rates in Afghanistan. Read on to learn about five of these projects.

  1. UNESCO – Enhancement of Literacy Afghanistan

UNESCO logoUNESCO is by far the largest organization focused on literacy in Afghanistan. Through its flagship literacy program, known as Enhancement of Literacy Afghanistan (ELA), UNESCO has partnered with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education to implement large-scale literacy, numeracy, and vocational skills development programs across all 34 Afghan provinces. ELA was first launched in 2008, and it has received financial support from a number of international sources including the Government of Japan, the Swedish International Cooperation Agency, and the Government of Finland.

To date, ELA has been implemented in three different phases. The first, which took place between 2008 and 2010, was a pilot program that was initiated in Bamiayan province’s capital city and then expanded to nine additional provinces. The second phase (2011-2013) included nine more provinces and added targeted market-demanded vocational skills training. The third phase (2014-2016) expanded the program’s offerings to reach a total of 600,000 individuals across Afghanistan.

  1. UNESCO – Literacy for Empowerment of Afghan Police (LEAP)

In addition to the large-scale ELA literacy program described above, UNESCO operates a number of targeted literacy initiatives. Among these is the Literacy for Empowerment of Afghan Police (LEAP) program. The LEAP program was launched in 2011 with the goal of using literacy training to help boost the quality of policing in Afghanistan.

The first phase of the program focused on developing and delivering literacy training materials for 500 police literacy facilitators. The second phase expanded the training to reach additional Afghan police officers. The LEAP program has also been working with the Ministry of the Interior’s Literacy Department to build long-term institutional capacity for creating, supporting, and enhancing police literacy through initiatives like training workshops and special literacy publications geared towards newly-literate members of the police force.

  1. Mercy Corps – Literacy and Math Education Program

mercycorpslogoLiteracy initiatives don’t always have to be big to be effective. The international humanitarian and development organization Mercy Corps has been working in Afghanistan since 1986, supporting projects in areas ranging from agricultural development to renewable energy.

In 2002, the organization made a new commitment: to provide literacy and math instruction to members of its own staff in northern Afghanistan. As senior program manager Joerg Denker explained at the time, in its ongoing mission to support Afghan citizens, it was important for Mercy Corps not to forget about its own employees.

The literacy and math classes proved tremendously successful, reaching dozens of Mercy Corps employees. The organization had plans to expand the program to include more people from the local community and to offer English classes in addition to the other subjects.

  1. The Institute for Cross-Cultural Exchange – Share Literacy Afghanistan

ICCElogoThe basis of literacy education is having appropriate materials for students to read. However, access to books can be a challenge in remote or rural Afghanistan. That’s where the Institute for Cross-Cultural Exchange (ICE) comes in. A Canadian charity dedicated to fostering learning and understanding among different cultures, ICE works with a number of groups in Afghanistan to distribute books to schools, orphanages, and libraries around the country.

The group doesn’t provide just any books: one of ICE’s partners is Hoopoe Books for Children. This is the educational non-profit publisher of (among many other titles) beautifully illustrated traditional Afghan children’s stories assembled by Afghan author Idries Shah. Through a special arrangement with Hoopoe Books, ICE is able to offer copies in the Dari and Pashto languages to children all over Afghanistan. For the vast majority of these young readers, this will be the first book they have ever owned.

  1. Captain Edward Zellem – Book of Afghan Proverbs

Like the Institute for Cross-Cultural Exchange, US Navy Captain Edward Zellem is also hoping that simple and relevant material will help give many Afghans their first taste of literacy. Zellem is the author of “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Dari Proverbs,” a collection of proverbs that he collected as a personal hobby during his deployment in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011.

After compiling the proverbs, Zellem approached art students from a high school in Kabul to illustrate them. The volume was later published by Karwan Press in Kabul through a grant from the US State Department. Today, the books are distributed to rural communities and high schools as part of several programs that aim to preserve and promote Afghan culture.

Spotlight on The Asia Foundation – Supporting Education for Afghans

As part of its mission to improve lives across the diverse regions of a dynamic and rapidly developing Asia, The Asia Foundation works hard to improve the quality of local education and expand access to educational opportunities in all areas where it operates. In Afghanistan, The Asia Foundation works closely with local NGO partners, as well as all levels of the formal education system, to strengthen all areas of Afghanistan’s education system, including student enrolment and achievement, teaching quality, curriculum development, and school infrastructure.

The educational programs supported by The Asia Foundation—all of which are carefully aligned with the strategies and priorities of Afghanistan’s ministries of Education and Higher Education—focus on boosting primary school literacy, improving teacher training, facilitating civil society and government agency participation in the educational sector, as well as developing employment-oriented educational initiatives. Read on to learn more about some of The Asia Foundation’s most recent work in the world of Afghan education.

Programs to enhance numeracy and literacy skills

school childrenBooks for Asia—Established nearly 15 years ago, the foundation’s Books for Asia program has delivered millions of books and educational materials to provincial schools, universities, public libraries, NGOs, and government ministries in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces. One of the Books for Asia program’s biggest achievements in Afghanistan has been the distribution of a special collection of traditional Afghan folktales to schools across the country. Published by Hoopee Books, the collection was written in English, Pashto, and Dari. Since 2012, more than 1.2 million of these books have been donated to nearly 600 schools.

Primary school programs—Children who learn literacy and numeracy skills at a young age are much more likely to go on to pursue higher education. This is the reason why The Asia Foundation supports a number of local organizations, such as the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University (ACKU) and the IT company Liwal, Ltd., in building a strong culture of reading for primary school children in Afghanistan. Through initiatives such as increased library access and the publication of easy-to-read books, these partners are working to make reading easy and fun for young Afghan students, as well as their parents and adult family members. Liwal, Ltd. is also developing an innovative new mobile app for primary school literacy in collaboration with The Asia Foundation. The app, which will initially be available to 2,000 Kabul children from grades one to three, will help them to read books in Dari and Pashto.

Libraries—The Afghanistan Center at Kabul University (ACKU), the only library in Afghanistan to house a comprehensive collection of research materials, has been visited by over 61,000 users since 2015. In addition to providing technical support and fiduciary oversight to ACKU, The Asia Foundation supports the Center’s Afghanistan Box Library Extension program (ABLE). Created in an effort to help provide remote communities with much-needed educational materials, ABLE creates new “box libraries” (which are basically conveniently located depositories of books) in isolated areas, and expands the collections of existing libraries. In the past year alone, 17 new box libraries have been created and more than 20,000 books and learning materials have been sent to libraries.

Programs for curriculum development

Given the significant percentage of students who do not pass the math and science sections of Afghanistan’s national public university entrance exam, known as the Kankor exam, it is clear that the math and science curriculum in Afghanistan’s public school system is in need of improvement. To this end, The Asia Foundation has formed a close partnership with the General Directorate of Science and Education Technology, the Ministry of Education department that oversees both curriculum development and teacher training.

Together with the Directorate, The Asia Foundation is supporting the training of 900 math and science teachers, as well as 65 lab technicians, in Badakhshan, Kandahar, and Khost. The goal is not only to create a more relevant and comprehensive curriculum, but to ensure that the teachers themselves are more comfortable with the material and thus better able to support their students. Up-to-date equipment can also make a big difference in students’ learning experience. The Asia Foundation has helped to distribute 300 pieces of laboratory equipment to 54 of those schools involved in the curriculum development program.

Programs for organizational capacity building

While Afghan-led programming makes the most sense for an effective Afghan school system, many educational organizations that would normally take the lead in this area lack the capacity, resources, or organizational governance to do so. To help address this discrepancy, The Asia Foundation conducts an organizational capacity development assessment—a participatory tool that provides a complete overview of an organization—for each of its local education partners in order to evaluate organizational stability and sustainability. When deficiencies or challenges are identified, the foundation provides training sessions to help the organization bridge the gap. Sessions can cover topics such as human resources, financial sustainability, strategic planning, and finance and administration. The overall goal is to help local organizations build their own effective governance structures and reduce dependence on funding from international donors.

 

Afghanistan’s Wireless Market Looks Toward a Bright Future

A landlocked country located in Central Asia, Afghanistan developed in the path of caravan trading routes known as the Silk Road. As Afghanistan began to rebuild following decades of war, entrepreneurs brought new technology into the country that allowed residents to easily communicate with one another and the outside world. One individual who led the effort to open Afghanistan to new communication systems was Dr. Ehsan Bayat.

The History of Telecommunications in Afghanistan

According to Dr. Ehsan Bayat, the effort to establish a national telecommunications system had faced many challenges. In the mid 1990’s, the nation began to establish the infrastructure and networks necessary to bring telecommunications technology to Afghanistan. A few public call shops were established, and several hundred miles of telephone lines were installed, a tentative beginning to offering communication to the nation. Subsequently, there was a renewed effort to bring a mobile network to the nation. However, numerous hurdles prevented the effort from getting very far. Undeterred, Dr. Bayat persevered to overcome obstacles.

Hurdles to Overcome

Particularly difficult during this period was the process of securing equipment and personnel willing to work in the country. Dr. Bayat eventually located a company willing to sell equipment to the newly formed Afghan Wireless Communication Company (AWCC), and the nation’s first mobile phone provider launched in 2002.

Explosive Growth

mobile phoneSince Afghan Wireless began providing services in 2002, the wireless market in Afghanistan has exploded. Today, there are five mobile operators competing for a piece of Afghanistan’s mobile market, which has resulted in reduced prices and increased service. Between Afghan Wireless and its competitors, nearly 25 million subscribers now have access to wireless service, a number that by most estimates covers 80% of the population. Most experts agree that this explosive growth is due, in part, to the lack of alternatives to wireless service, making it a highly competitive market. In hindsight, this explosive growth makes sense. While there was formerly no market, suddenly everyone now had access to wireless service. However, at the time, no one could have predicted the widespread acceptance of this new means of communication.

Government Regulations

As the wireless market exploded onto the scene, the government scrambled to keep pace. Unpredictable tax rates hindered the expansion of the wireless market and led to frustrated owners, who were unprepared to pay taxes early or at the government’s whim. Regulatory guidelines are being put into place, similar to those of the FCC, that will help to monitor and control the use of wireless technology and regulate tax collection to maintain the infrastructure.

Maintaining the Network

New technology is constantly being added to improve the wireless market within Afghanistan. Dr. Bayat’s efforts to update wireless systems to keep up with the pace of modern technology are not only cost effective, but they put the nation in a position to move forward with its communication systems. The use of fiber optic cables will reduce dependence on wireless for Internet systems and lower the cost of service even more.

The use of local workforces to maintain and secure the equipment is expected to improve connectivity. In addition, it is anticipated that the new technology will provide employment to Afghan nationals and create a network of communities that share wireless towers.

The Future of Wireless

While nearly 80% of the population now has access to wireless communication, the number of individuals with Internet access is considerably smaller. Today, the number of 3G subscribers in Afghanistan amounts to approximately 2 million users, which is approximately 8% of the mobile market. Currently, all five mobile operators in the nation have 3G licenses and are seeking to increase their market share, as users adopt the newest forms of communication. In addition, companies are seeking to adopt 4G technology and improve the quality of Internet connectivity. Previously, efforts to expand Internet usage were dismal due in part due to poor infrastructure. The use of dial-up, a lack of available resources, and a limited understanding of how the Internet can be beneficial hindered its adoption by the Afghan people. Helping to further expand the Internet’s reach are strategic partnerships that led to the launch of the nation’s first satellite, as well as falling prices for Internet and wireless access.

Afghan Wireless has worked tirelessly to bring communication to Afghanistan. From the earliest stages of development, Dr. Bayat has served as a financial investor and advocate for improved telecommunication systems, and he continues to focus on this effort. The expansion of telecommunications networks continues to encounter new obstacles. However, in spite of these challenges, the people of Afghanistan have a vested interest in pursuing a secure and efficient network for both wireless and Internet service.