The Significance of Education in Afghanistan

Mr. Farid SaydeeA Current Issue of Global Concern:
The Significance of Education for Peace and Stability in Afghanistan ©

by Mr. Farid Saydee

Over 30 years of war and instability have ruined the infrastructure of all spheres of Afghan life. Education has probably been the sector that has sustained the most devastation in Afghanistan. Educating the Afghan populace – especially the young generation – is a critical facet toward engendering enduring peace and stability, alleviating endemic poverty, and resuscitating economic growth in the country.

From this writer’s personal awareness, in Afghanistan today most schools lack proper teaching facilities and materials (apart from the usual facilities this would include current library holdings, computerized language labs, computer labs etc) .  But perhaps most important of all …in Afghanistan …there is a critical shortage of qualified teachers. Teachers with current qualifications reflective of those which would be demanded, at a minimum, in neighboring states …let alone the rest of the world.

Beyond the issue of availability of adequate educational opportunity however, the educational crisis in Afghanistan is further acerbated by societal circumstances.  This writer is certain most readers will be aware of the circumstances which prevail in Afghanistan but, according to a report by Surgar (2011), Afghan parents are reluctant to send their children to school buildings which – because the populace is aware of the grim inadequacy of the schooling facilities – are strikingly empty of activity and children.  The Surgar report underpins this writer’s own research on the ground in that it reveals that the quality of Afghan education is “ low” and in most cases a striking non-existence of textbooks and of proper curricula and syllabi is evident.

Another issue that has a bearing – but which has not figured prominently in discussions about the re-engineering of the Afghan educational system – relates to the socio-cultural bias that many Afghans have toward the education of females, especially in the conservative and remote areas of the country. This is another challenge that the Afghan government needs to wrestle with.  According to a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund the disparity between the enrollment (at schools offering even the most basic educational facilities) of girls’ and boys’ is enormous.  In 2009 the enrolment of young Afghan girls constituted only 35% of the total primary school enrollments (UNICEF, 2009). This percentage swells in some rural provinces in the south of the country such as in Zabul Province. Due to growing instability 90 out of 100 girls are not in schools in that province. As an average only 50% of all children receive schooling in Afghanistan (IRIN, 2011).

Beyond early School education …in Afghanistan today there are other significant education related challenges that need to be addressed. Among them is the desperate circumstance surrounding availability of higher education opportunities  (certificate, diploma  and degree programmes)  for those Afghans who have actually made the difficult, and sometimes perilous, journey through early school …to qualify with a High School qualification.  Part of the issue is an epidemic of despair that, for those who complete early schooling …high school … and do not have the resources to proceed further with their education, there are virtually no employment opportunities upon graduation.  This situation, obviously, only lends to the damaging environment of thought that education does not do anything to better ones lot in life.

Further looming education related problems continue to surface in Afghanistan. According to the Ministry of Higher Education of Afghanistan (2010), the number of high school graduates will reach 600,000 students by 2014. These are young eager Afghans on the brink of adulthood who should be able to look to their own country for the provision of further, higher education opportunities with which to prepare themselves to compete in a world filled with others of their own age who are forging ahead armed with modern further education qualifications. Under normal circumstances the half a million or more Afghans who will seek admission to college or university should not – if proper strategic planning had been evident …if the governmental will had been evident – have been a problem. Unfortunately such is not the case in Afghanistan.

As of this time of writing – in January 2011 – the currently existing public and private universities do not have the capacity to cope with such a huge number of potential new applicants (MoHE, 2010).

Although, the Afghan government sponsors higher education of some Afghan students by sending them to countries such as the United State and India,  in a nut-shell this alternative is disastrously expensive for Afghanistan, and, in most cases, futile.  Most Afghan students studying abroad – upon earning whatever qualification they had sought – often do not return to Afghanistan after completion of their education.  This writer is personally aware that many seek asylum in the host countries (personal research, 2010).

Despite the fact that – since the fall of Taliban in 2001  – the Afghan education sector has – according to the nation’s Ministry of Education – witnessed substantial progress in, for instance,  the amount of overall enrolment in some form of educational pursuit (7 million),  the training of teachers, and the construction of over 4,500 schools (Afghanistan Ministry of Education, 2010); Afghanistan sustains the highest illiteracy rates in the world for both men and women.   More than 11 million Afghans over the age of 15 still cannot read or write.  In rural areas, where the majority of Afghans live, 90 percent of the women and more than 60 percent of the men are illiterate (REAC, 2010). This situation has created a perfect opportunity for the opposition of the Afghan government to exploit the unawareness of the locals and use them for political and personal agendas (Time, 2010).

It is this writer’s strongly-held personal belief that Education has a pivotal impact on peace and stability. If the Afghan government – and the international community which spends billions in Afghanistan facing the enemy militarily – want to bring peace and security to Afghanistan, they must play a strong, supportive role in pressing the Afghan authorities to focus upon educating Afghans.   In essence there needs to be a sea-change in the much promulgated strategies we fall victim to so often from supposed experts.  The essential need is that there MUST be greater and better educational opportunities inside the country.

It is patently obvious that in this vital period of national re-building the authorities have many other vital imperatives to address. Hospitals, transportation infrastructure, etc.  But in ignoring the country’s precious resource – its young..its youth …and their education …Afghanistan is breeding further problems. The high rate of unemployment and crisis-level –lack of availability of opportunities to higher educational institutions simply means more foot soldiers for the enemy (Associated Content, 2007).  The opposition … fighting in Afghanistan… easily recruits disaffected, disgruntled, under-educated, and under-utilized young Afghans and uses them against the Afghan government and coalition forces.

Even the encouraging strides to provide more schools, colleges and universities, made by the Afghan education authorities are, to this writer, insufficient. Far too often (public, state-funded) Universities from the Coalition countries float into Afghanistan and enter into arrangements with local government universities. This is not necessarily what is needed.

The Afghan Education authorities should not – in this era of resuscitation – try to go it alone. They should encourage private higher educational organizations – who may be more apt to develop genuine long-term relations – given their personal investment not garnered from government coffers – to invest in the country …to open degree programmes in discipline areas which will train Afghans to take their place in the global arenas of business, commerce, international trade, international relations, and leadership. The Afghan Education authorities should encourage international private education entities to invest in the nation and its people by making the currently extraordinarily- difficult approval process much leaner and rational.

Sources:

Afghanistan Ministry of Education. (2010). Where We Are Now. Retrieved from http://english.moe.gov.af/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=68:where-we-are-now&catid=63:about-moe&Itemid=90

Associated Content. (2007). Unemployment Pushes Afghanistan Youth to the Taliban. Retrieved from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/446162/unemployment_pushes_afghanistan_youth.html

IRIN. (2011). Record Numbers Enroll in New School Year. Retrieved from http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=70844

Ministry of Higher Education. (2010). Strategic Plan. Retrieved from http://www.mohe.gov.af/?lang=en

Oxfam. (2004). Afghanistan Education Report Card. Retrieved from http://www.oxfamamerica.org/publications/afghanistan-education-report-card/?searchterm=None

Relief and Education for Afghan Children. (2010). Education. Retrieved from http:// http://reachafghanschools.org/index_files/Page950.htm

Surgar. (2011). Marja Schools. Retrieved from http://www.surgar.net/

Time. (2010). The Taliban: Friend to Education. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1581119,00.html#ixzz0nYZqijdq

UNICEF. (2009). Critical Issues for Children and Women. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/har09/index_afghanistan.php

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