The World Bank’s assistance to Afghanistan’s education sector started against a bleak backdrop, as there had been no education for girls before 2001. The Taliban had banned education for girls, school infrastructure had been decimated, and there was a critical shortage in the quantity and quality of teachers. In addition, the sector was hampered by a prevalence of multiple curricula, low literacy rates, high gender inequity, and weak higher education and technical and vocational training programs. Afghanistan in 2002, still in a state of conflict and emerging out of two decades of turmoil, had generations in need of education and skills. The demand for education services was tremendous and far outstripped supply. As demand for education continues to soar, providing equitable access to quality education, especially for girls, remains the biggest challenge.
The Bank sought to encourage community participation and secure long-term sustainability of its work by aligning project development objectives with the government’s development objectives and its education strategies and plans. Improving the quality of outputs as well as enhancing the overall quality of teaching and the learning environment is critical. School infrastructure grants, quality improvement grants, and teacher and principal training have helped bring about notable improvements in quality and participation in education. In addition, the formation of school Shuras (community-led decision-making bodies) has helped enhance community participation and local ownership of education investments. The Shuras help facilitate community contracting for establishing new schools and also help create school improvement plans, as well as providing round the clock support on various issues facing the schools.
Owing to the Bank’s contributions of funding and expertise, school enrollment has increased from 1 million in 2002 to 7.2 million children in 2011, of which 2.7 million (37 percent) are girls; in 2001, girls were entirely excluded from education. In addition to boosting enrollment, the Bank has supported capacity enhancements across the sector, helping train 137,681 teachers, including 39,003 female teachers. It has also completed or is building 1,659 schools to enhance access to education in remote areas.
Altogether, 11,695 principals have completed School Management Training (among them, 605 female principals) and the Bank helped establish 618 Principal Learning Circles to promote a tradition of continued learning and knowledge exchange. Finally, as of 2012, total of 3351 female teachers were receiving scholarships to attend teacher training colleges.
The Second Education Quality Improvement Program has budgeted US$210 million in support between 2008 and 2012. Of this amount, US$30 million is a grant from the Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), US$22 million is provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and US$158 million is being drawn from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).
In addition to the support from USAID and ARTF, bilateral donors have also complemented financing education sector projects. All funds – whether from the ARTF or IDA – are “on budget” and are channeled through the government’s budget. The Bank’s preference for “on budget” financing approach has influenced other donors to also consider using this funding option, which boosts government capacity and ownership of these efforts.
Toward the Future
Remarkable progress has been achieved with the Bank’s support, and the focus is now shifting toward improving the quality and the longer-term sustainability of results. In addition, Afghanistan is undergoing a transition process that will see a reduction in international presence, as well as decrease in aid money. To further consolidate project gains and, more importantly, to strengthen systems at Ministry of Education, the Bank will extend the Education Quality Improvement Program. During this time, a learning outcomes assessment – as well as several other preparatory and summative measures – will be taken to prepare for a new program that will reflect the needs and context of the achievements of the past decade.