A Current Issue of Global Concern

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

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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. As the new school year begins in Afghanistan, The Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC) released Report Card: Progress on Compulsory Education. The new report urges policymakers to work harder to address urgent and long term education needs in the country. Oxfam International is one of the Consortium members.

The report card (for grades 1-9) recognizes that Afghanistan has made progress in enrollment, but finds key gaps in school completion rates, policy management, quality of education and available resources. * Despite the increase in school enrollment, more than half of Afghanistan’s children don’t attend primary school. Less than 34% of those enrolled are girls. * Drop-out rates are high, particularly among girls. Of those attending primary school, only 9% go on to secondary school. * Female teachers are scarce. In one province there is one female teacher for every 152 male teachers.

Increasing the number of female teachers is essential to increase the enrollment of girls. HRRAC recommends that international donors honor their commitments to provide sufficient and long-term funding for Afghanistan and ensure adequate steps are taken to increase the enrollment of girls and improve the quality of education. The Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium is a group of Afghan and international organizations working in the fields of humanitarian relief, reconstruction, human and women’s rights, peace promotion, research, and advocacy.

It was established in early 2003 to engage in proactive research and advocacy on human rights issues over a sustained period. Opposition within Afghanistan to girls’ participation in education predates the Taliban. Historically, education for girls was rare in rural Afghanistan and almost exclusively confined to the capital. In 1919 King Amanullah seized the Afghan throne and began a rapid development of the country’s secular education system, with a particular focus on expanding education for women.

During this period shortly following independence from Britain, women and girls were encouraged in their scholarly pursuits. This shift, however, directly threatened the centuries-old practice of traditional male-oriented madrassa (religious) education among many of the ethnic tribes in Afghanistan. Amanullah’s experiment with a secular approach to education, along with other reforms prohibiting polygamy and bride price — the provision of money to the wife’s family upon marriage — aroused protest from the country’s religious establishment, who eventually supported the overthrow of the king.

Nadir Shah, who took power following Amanullah, was more cautious in his attempt to introduce educational opportunities for women. Nevertheless, over the course of the twentieth century, and in particular during King Mohammed Zahir’s long reign between 1933 and 1973, Afghanistan’s education system steadily expanded even as it continued to be influenced by demands from the country’s conservative cultural and religious authorities. By the 1970s, women made up over 60 percent of the 10,000 students who studied at Kabul University.

The rise of the Soviet-backed People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan in 1978 brought large-scale literacy programs for men and women, again alongside the abolition of bride price and other reforms beneficial to women. During this period leading up the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, reforms in areas such as education stirred resentment among religious and tribal leaders in the rural areas. Although full implementation of these reforms were limited by political exigencies, women were able to experience expanded access to education and also the opportunity to actively participate as university faculty staff.

During the Soviet occupation from 1979 to 1989, Afghans lived through a devastating war fueled by external forces and funding from multiple countries, among them the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China. Islamic militants, or Mujahideen, thrived in rural areas and constructed their own revolutionary army with the goal of overturning all socialist policies such as those governing women’s rights in general, and access education in particular. With the fall of the Communist government in 992, the country was divided among warring factions, many of them religiously inspired Mujahideen groups ideologically opposed to modern education and to education for girls. Millions of Afghans, particularly the educated, emigrated to other countries. Many of the schools not destroyed by war were closed due to lack of security, the lack of teachers and teaching material, or simply because of dire poverty. Education under the Taliban went from bad to worse. The Taliban focused solely on religious studies for boys and denied nearly all girls the right to attend school.

During the Taliban’s rule, only about 3 per cent of girls received some form of primary education. The prohibition of female education, coupled with the cultural mandate that women receive their health care from female health care providers, resulted in a vulnerable population receiving care from poorly-educated providers. Twenty-three years of war have destroyed the infrastructure of the education system and further increased the illiteracy rate in Afghanistan. Since 2001, the participation of children and adults in education has improved dramatically and there is great demand.

Afghanistan has one of the youngest populations on the planet. Unexpectedly large numbers showed up when schools reopened in 2002, and enrollments have increased every year since, with the Ministry of Education reporting that 5. 2 million students were enrolled in grades one through twelve in 2005. This includes an estimated 1. 82-1. 95 million girls and women. An additional 55,500-57,000 people, including 4,000-5,000 girls and women, were enrolled in vocational, Islamic, and teacher education programs, and 1. 24 million people were enrolled in non-formal education programs.

These numbers represent a remarkable improvement from the Taliban era. More Afghan children are in school today than at any other period in Afghanistan’s history. In 2003, in response to the lack of educational opportunities in Afghanistan for the general population and especially for females, the United States Agency for International Development funded the Afghanistan Primary Education Program (APEP). APEP offers emergency access to accelerated elementary education for out-of-school youth between 10 and 18 years of age, focusing on females.

Between 2003 and 2005, APEP supported accelerated learning programs for 170,000 over-age youth in more than 3,000 villages in Afghanistan. Located at Kabul University, the Women’s Teacher Training Institute opened in September 2004. The institute is currently operating programs that aim to teach basic literacy to Afghan women in rural areas and to reduce maternal and child mortality. Despite numerous positive steps forward in education for Afghan women and girls, persistent violent attacks on schools by resurgent Taliban and other forces continue to force some schools to close.

In a statement released in June 2006, Ret. U. S. Gen. Barry McCaffrey stressed the comparative superiority of the Taliban’s equipment and tactics to those of the NATO-trained Afghan National Army (ANA). “They are brutalizing the population,” wrote McCaffrey of the Taliban, “and they are now conducting a summer-fall campaign to knock NATO out of the war, capture the provincial capital of Kandahar, isolate the Americans, stop the developing Afghan educational system, stop the liberation of women, and penetrate the new police force and ANA. Summary AIL works to empower Afghans by expanding their educational and health opportunitites and by fostering self-reliance and community participation. What is the issue, problem, or challenge? Afghan women and children had no access to education for a decade. After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the Afghan Institute of Learning organized Educational Learning Centers (ELCs) to bring women life-saving healthcare and education. AIL helps local leaders start ELCs and decide where and what services to offer.

AIL has requests for ELCs from many communities that have not historically been open to education for women. AIL now supports 44 ELCs in Afghanistan and refugee camps of Pakistan. How will this project solve this problem? AIL’s ELCs serve 350,000 women and children each year with medical and reproductive healthcare, health education, skills training, teacher training, leadership/human rights classes, pre-school through post-secondary education, and fast track classes. Potential Long Term Impact

Because AIL is run by Afghan women and respectful of Afghan culture, conservative villages trust AIL to begin services for thousands of isolated women in dire need. Other NGOs and the Afghan government now use this model for women’s services. Project Message Our eyes are opened. Now we can read and write. Actually, now we have come to know the value of an educated person in a society. We thank AIL for enlightening rural areas with the lights of education. – Salma, woman in a literacy class in a rural ELC

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