Photo: Global Partnership for Education

Access to education has been one of the main priorities for Afghan authorities and the international community for the past 14 years, but despite formidable investments in the country’s educational sector, many Afghan children leave school without being able to read or write. What has gone wrong?

Since 2001, the number of Afghan children enrolled in school has gone from 1 to 8,3 million. 40 percent of them are girls. The enormous increase in the number of children attending school has been hailed as one of the biggest development successes in Afghanistan, but there are signs that the tales of success are exaggerated.  Many children leave school without having learnt to read and write. In some rural areas there are no schools for girls, and despite the impressive increase in the number of schoolchildren, no one really knows how many children who do not go to school.

Have Afghan authorities and the international community been blinded by numbers?

-In the quest for immediate measures of results and fast improvements, the quality of education has suffered, says Arne Strand, deputy director at the Chr. Michelsen Institute.

And the key words are…
According to Strand and Ehsanullah Ehsan, Director and Head teacher at the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies, focus has been too narrow.

- For the past 14 years, infrastructure has been prioritized. The amount of schools that have been built and the speed in which it has been done is impressive, but it has been difficult to match these achievements with quality teaching and administrative resources, especially in rural areas, says Ehsan. Increasing the number of teachers and providing further training to teachers need to be on top of the agenda for years to come.

-Rural areas need qualified teachers and more female teachers. Strengthening the provincial teacher training institutes and their teaching capacity is important. It can provide them high quality training and it makes it easier for women from the rural areas to attend. Having to go to Kabul to study is a major obstacle, especially for women, says Strand.

-Capacity building and training should be top priority for the cooperation between the government and the international community in the years to come. Afghanistan needs to strengthen the capacity and number of skilled teachers and administrative staff in the educational sector. We need professional teachers and school leaders with strong management skills. We also need people that stand up against corruption, says Ehsan.

-Education is the backbone of a nation. If we want a democratic Afghanistan, we need to invest in people. Investing in education equals investing in people. If you are wise, you invest in people before you invest in roads. The road does not build or maintain itself, nor does it make money on its own. You depend on people to turn the road into something bigger than itself. We need the same kind of thinking in the educational sector, says Ehsan.

Recommendations on improving the quality of education:
The quality of education was an important feature of the agenda during the Afghanistan Week 2015. In a seminar dedicated to the topic, Ehsanullah Ehsan, director and head teacher at the Kandahar Institute of Modern Studies, Razia Arooje, Master in Development and Governance, and Terje Watterdal, Country Director at the Norwegian Afghanistan Committee, presented a list of recommendations for actors involved in the Afghan educational sector:

*Invest in teacher training

*Introduce district-based accelerated learning programmes for girls and young women

*Involve communities

*Improve the relevance of education

*Promote critical thinking

*Decentralize recruitment processes

*The recommendations were discussed at a meeting with several Norwegian MPs representing different political parties