Children in AfghanistanConflict in Afghanistan has persisted for more than two decades, with active U.S. involvement starting in October 2001. Political instability, violence, and persecution led to the displacement of more than 360,000 people in 2017 alone. This displacement causes a lack of stability in employment, shelter, food, and education, In times of ongoing conflict, safety becomes the top priority, and education is largely neglected. While conflicts must be resolved, improving access to education in Afghanistan is critical to enable this nation to reduce poverty and improve overall quality of life.

Targeted Attacks on Girls’ Education

While the lack of access to education in Afghanistan stems from a range of political and social conflicts, there have also been direct attacks on girls’ education. UNICEF reports that around 3.7 million children are not enrolled in school in Afghanistan, and girls make up 60 percent of that number. Terrorist groups such as the Taliban specifically target girls’ education institutions because they believe women should not be educated.

According to Human Rights Watch, bombings and acid attacks are not uncommon forms of violence at girls’ schools. In Kandahar, one such attack in 2008 that injured 15 girls led many families to prevent their daughters from attending school. Fear of violence is a prominent reason that many girls in Afghanistan do not receive an education.

Barriers to Education Access

Besides targeted attacks, girls are less likely to attend school for cultural reasons, including expectations to marry at a young age and raise children. The demand for teachers and schools remains relatively low, as geographic barriers such as terrain, climate, and location effect school attendance. According to UNICEF, only 48 percent of teachers have attained the minimum required qualifications to teach. As conflicts continue, expanding access to education in Afghanistan will be difficult. International policies such as the Safe Schools Declaration, which protects education during violent conflict, can help encourage children to attend school. Foreign aid can also provide resources to give teachers better training and updated classroom materials.

How Can Education Reduce Poverty?

Improved access to education will profoundly impact Afghanistan’s poverty rate and overall economic health. Education is critical to “break the cycle of poverty,” as ChildFund International states. Educated individuals are more likely to hold jobs, which increases economic security and can help lift people out of poverty. Children with educated parents or caregivers are more likely to attend school, which can help ensure economic security in the future.

In Afghanistan’s Yakawlang District, the Rustam School teaches 330 girls and 146 boys–a sign that education access is improving in some parts of Afghanistan. The Rustam School had a 92 percent college entrance rate in 2017. This school’s success is possible due to the Taliban’s exit from the area surrounding Rustam School, making parents more willing to send their children. The school inspires children to pursue careers that have higher earning potential than the agricultural work common to families. If more institutions in Afghanistan can follow the Rustam School’s example, perhaps education access will expand for both girls and boys, and a new generation of educated citizens will help to stabilize Afghanistan’s politics and expand its economy.

– Erin Grant
Photo: Flickr

Girls’ Education in AfghanistanPolitical and economic instability have been facts of life in Afghanistan for decades. However, one of the few institutions that has made a significant recovery is the education system. There are still twice as many boys in school as there are girls. However, since 2008, the overall number of girls in school has gone up significantly.

Changing attitudes about girls’ education in Afghanistan have bolstered female enrollment rates. This shift has, in turn, increased support for public education in general and foreign aid—particularly from the U.S. Agency for International Development. USAID statistics offer some encouraging numbers to support this:

  • Of 9 million children enrolled in schools, 3.5 million are girls,
  • USAID has distributed over 170 million textbooks, and
  • USAID has helped train 280,000 new teachers.

The Rustam School

One promising example of this shift forward is the Rustam School, located in the Yakawlang district. The Rustam School possesses a small student body of only a few hundred. Nevertheless, 92 percent of its graduating class moved onto Afghanistan’s public universities in 2017.

Inverting the country’s enrollment statistics, two-thirds of the Rustam School’s students are girls. To note, the Taliban outlawed girls’ education in Afghanistan and pushed many boys into Islamic studies, rather than popular STEM courses. However, students, particularly girls, apply themselves rigorously to their education. They go so far as to learn the Windows operating systems without the aid of a computer.

The Fight for Education

Unlike in the United States, where public K-12 education is universal, the fight for education in Afghanistan has a checkered past. As far back as the 1970s, mujaheddin resistance fighters (rebelling against the USSR’s attempted occupation of Afghanistan) were killing government-paid teachers and closing down their schools.

With over half of the country’s 36 million citizens under the age of 18, the investment and safeguarding of education are more critical than ever. In recognition of this fact, USAID, the Pentagon and the State Department have invested $759 million in primary and secondary education over the last 17 years. These investments have fostered the changing attitudes of both local politicians and regional power-brokers—with the constant exception of the Taliban.

Though the expansion and protection of girls’ education in Afghanistan have had much progress, there is still room for improvement. The majority of Afghan girls are not enrolled in public school. This is explained by two main factors. First, most Afghan girls still marry at a very young age (for a variety of sociocultural factors). Subsequently, this causes a lack of female teachers and all-girls’ schools. Second, Afghanistan faces logistical difficulty when it comes to extending education to rural areas. Long walks to school sometimes have significant geographical barriers along the way that physically prevent students from attending. Also, many rural families are subsistence farmers; it is difficult for students to go to school if they have animals or crops to look after. However, the Rustam School proves that though providing education to rural Afghan children may be difficult, it is not impossible.

The Future of Education

Despite the recent progress and development of education in Afghanistan since the early 2000s, significant hurdles exist for girls’ education. The country’s education system must still be further advanced. However, a local initiative can make do with minimal resources and reach out to rural areas—like the Rustam School. Most importantly, despite its shortcomings, Afghanistan’s primary and secondary education systems offer success stories of what foreign aid can accomplish, especially if maintained over long periods of time.

– Rob Sprankle
Photo: Flickr