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Can Afghanistan Get All its Girls in School ?

Official Bank Sites

Since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the country has experienced a dramatic increase in school enrolment, particularly for girls. Today, 6 million children are in school, one-third of them girls—the highest enrolment rate in the country’s history.

“In many ways, we were starting from scratch,” said Afghanistan’s new Minister of Education, Mohammed Haneef Atmar, who dropped in on a number of Bank officials recently while visiting Washington DC. In addition to donor support and the reconstruction effort, he points to a number of societal reasons for the improvement. Afghanistan, he says learned a “great national lesson.”

“The only positive outcome of conflict is social awareness. First, while a significant part of our population was displaced they received education in camps. Second, many people interpreted what was happening to our country as a meaningless drive for conflict—the cause of which they believed to be ignorance. And last, by discriminating against women, the Taliban caused a large public reaction. In other words, being against girls’ education was being ‘Taliban,’ so there came to be great support for girls’ education.”

The State of Education

Three decades ago, says Atmar, a farmer would not necessarily see the value of education for his children: “People concerned with their day to day survival look at what makes sense in that context. Imagine a rural farmer seeing the need to educate his daughter if he has never seen a female doctor. Today, people know that education for all is a life and death issue.” For example, 80,000-90,000 children die each year of waterborne diseases; people have come to understand that if mothers are literate, that number comes down.

But, the significant achievement in enrolment is leading to significant challenges in quality and supply. Among the obstacles:

  • The security situation;
  • quality of curriculum and education;
  • shortage of female teachers—there is a cultural issue with sending girls to male-dominated schools creating a vicious circle whereby female teachers are too few;
  • access—there are just 8,500 schools for 38,000 villages;
  • health hazards—only 30 percent of schools overall are actually in enclosed buildings and in Kabul, 40 percent of schools do not have a structure.

Next Steps

The Afghanistan Compact, which came out of the 2006 London Conference, commits the Government to a series of development priorities and lays out benchmarks which can realistically be met—and includes the Afghan adaptation of the Millennium Development Goals (see box).

Donor coordination has been a problem, says Atmar, whose ministry will be completing a five-year strategy for meeting the country’s education goals by end-October. Because, he says, Afghanistan itself must define national priorities, the strategy will be based on meeting the needs through the national budget.

Thus, the Education Ministry is looking for innovative alternatives. For example, Atmar is seeking partial financing for a program to help train and recruit more female teachers. Since there are no resources for new positions, he is proposing a national incentive program whereby female teachers are given housing—land and a loan with which to build on it. He hopes that families will see the benefits of educating girls and encourage them to go to secondary school in order to become teachers. “There is also a social agenda for social change and social empowerment,” says Atmar. “If they have land and a home they will become empowered.”

Atmar was until recently Minister for Rural Rehabilitation and Development, and points to two programs “which the Bank can be very proud of”: the Emergency National Solidarity Project and the Microfinance and Investment Support Facility for Afghanistan (MISFA).

The World Bank is currently the second largest supporter of education programs in Afghanistan after USAID. Of the $873 million active portfolio (as of June 2006), $75 million is in the education sector. IDA is financing two active projects: an Education Quality Improvement Program ($35 million grant) and a Strengthening Higher Education Program ($40 million grant).

In the area of education, the 2006 Afghanistan Compact calls for:

Primary and Secondary Education
By end-2010: in line with Afghanistan’s MDGs, net enrolment in primary school for girls and boys will be at least 60% and 75% respectively; a new curriculum will be operational in all secondary schools; female teachers will be increased by 50%; 70% of Afghanistan’s teachers will have passed a competency test; and a system for assessing learning achievement such as a national testing system for students will be in place.

Higher Education
By end 2010: enrolment of students to universities will be 100,000 with at least 35% female students; and the curriculum in Afghanistan’s public universities will be revised to meet the development needs of the country and private sector growth.

Skills Development
A human resource study will be completed by end-2006, and 150,000 men and women will be trained in marketable skills through public and private means by end-2010.

Afghan Cultural Heritage
A comprehensive inventory of Afghan cultural treasures will be compiled by end-2007. Measures will be taken to revive the Afghan cultural heritage, to stop the illegal removal of cultural material and to restore damaged monuments and artifacts by end-2010.

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