Challenges Facing Afghanistan’s Education Sector

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  In December 2001, a team led by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) completed a “Preliminary Needs Assessment (PNA) for the Recovery and Reconstruction of Afghanistan”, which was soon followed by a “Comprehensive Needs Assessment” of Afghanistan’s education sector. As noted in an ADB report on “A New Start for Afghanistan’s Education Sector”, these assessments elucidated numerous challenges facing the school system.
    The Civil-Military Fusion Centre (CFC) is an information and knowledge management organisation focused on improving civil-military interaction, facilitating information sharing and enhancing situational awareness through the   CimicWeb    portal and our weekly and monthly  publications. CFC products are based upon and link to open-source information from a wide variety of organisations, research centres and media sources. However, the CFC does not endorse and cannot necessarily guarantee the accuracy or objectivity of these sources.   CFCpublications are independently produced by Desk Officers and do not reflect NATO or ISAF policies or positions of any otherorganisation.   CIVIL-MILITARY FUSION CENTRE Challenges Facing Afghanistan’s Education Sector   Rainer Gonzalez Palau Social & Strategic Infrastructure Desk   February 2012 n December 2001, a team led by the Asian Development Bank (ADB)completed a “ Preliminary NeedsAssessment (PNA) for the Recovery and Reconstruction of Afghanistan ” , which was soon followed by a “ Comprehensive Needs Assessment ”   of Afghanistan’s education sector  . As noted in an ADB report on “ A  New Start for Afghanistan’s Education Sector ” , these assessments elucidated numerous challenges facing theschool system. According to the report, education in Afghanistan had been undermined, both institutionally and interms of physical infrastructure, by 23 years of war. The report notes that politicisation was a particular concern;various groups, including the Taliban, had attempted to use education as a means of spreading ideology. The PNAestimated that, during 2001, the Gross Enrolment Ratio(GER)in primary education was 38% for boys and 3% for girls. In secondary education, the situation was worse, with an enrolment rate between 5% and 11% for boys and1% and 2% for girls. The PNA reportedly found that approximately 80% of the school buildings had been eitherdamaged or destroyed; only two teacher training colleges were partially functioning nationwide. Furthermore, thecurriculum had not been revised in 30 years. Teachers had not been paid for months. Many had fled the country orwere either working in other sectors or in refugee camps abroad. In this challenging context with a diminishedsystem capacity to supply basic items such as buildings, teachers and materials, the ADB estimated that, after2001, there was a need to train 43,500 teachers and construct almost 14,000 schools in order to provide primary education to Afghan children in Afghanistan as well as to those returning from neighbouring countries. According to the US government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction(SIGAR), the situation changed over the course of the next decade. A SIGAR report indicates that more than8.1 millionAfghans have accessed some form of education during the last decade. This improvement is also reflected in theWorld Bank  ’s World Development Indicators  (WDIs)for Afghanistan ( see Figure 1, next page ). I   AFGHANISTAN RESOURCE DESK    February 2012 Page 2 Afghanistan Resource Desk: Challenges in the Education Sector Figure 1. Trends in Afghan Education Indicators, 2002-2010   Source: Developed by the author from the World Bank’s  World Development Indicators .   The Afghan Ministry of Education(MoE)defined its main objectives for 2020 in the National Education Strategic Plan(NESP).These objectives included the following: (i) to increase GERs for boys and girls to 104% and 103% 1 , respectively; (ii) to ensure that 95% of teachers have successfully passed the national competency test;(iii) to achieve a national literacy rate of 75%; and (iv) to ensure that 12% of students progress from primaryschool to vocational colleges and schools. The following sections help to identify challenges facing the Afghaneducation system in order to help ide ntify entry points, based on experts’ reports, for  obtaining goals such asthese. Education Quality The United Nations Children’s Fund( UNICEF)says that the quality of teaching continues to be a challenge for Afghanistan. UNICEF asserts that there are continual opportunities to support the MoE in improving teachingthrough field-testing, orientation, developing of teacher s’ guides, capacity development programmes for teachers,the distribution of supplementary materials to all schools and support to teacher training colleges.Likewise, aNorwegian Education Team (NET) report points out that schools operated by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) often have more resources to attempt innovative approaches and are also less encumberedby bureaucracy. The NET report indicates that centralisation within the Afghan state education system hashindered innovation and made it more difficult for approaches to be tailored to local contexts. For instance,provision of computer-based lessons is not available in state-owned schools, though some NGO-run and privateschools have started to introduce online classes. Furthermore, the NET report identified a need to develop a newacademic curriculum and to print new textbooks which are adapted to the local traditions and culture. The report 1   In many developing countries GER can be larger than 100% as it accounts for the presence of students who are outside of thetypical age range. Thus, if 100% of school-age students but 3% of older students are in primary schools, the GER will read 103%since there are more students than there are school-age children.   0.0%20.0%40.0%60.0%80.0%100.0% 200220032004200520062007200820092010GER Primary EducationGER Secondary Education    February 2012 Page 3 Afghanistan Resource Desk: Challenges in the Education Sector suggests involving a wide array of stakeholders, including religious leaders, in developing new curricula andtraining materials to ensure that they will be widely accepted. Lack of Physical Infrastructure Education benefits from the availability of adequate learning spaces and school facilities. However, the NETreport confirms that 80% of  Afghanistan’s schools had been damaged or destroyed during conflict in the 1980sand 1990s, in particular. During the last decade, however, many donors have focused their efforts in constructingnew schools and rehabilitating damaged classrooms. For instance, in 2010, according to the MoE’s  2010 ProgressReport,2,659 schools accommodating 554,400 students were built. Many more were renovated and furnished withdesks and other materials. However, there are still many schools operating outdoors or in tents. As such, it isimportant to highlight that the MoE in consultation with other agencies and organisations developed a set of  pre-planned, cost-effective school designs that take into consideration a wide range of variables, including locally-available materials, access for disable students, safety and the environment. The MoE has encouraged donors andpartners to choose the most appropriate of these designs when building additional schools. Institutional Capacity Development   The Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit(AREU)finds thatcapacity building is a key issue for strengthening the country’s education sector  and making it sustainable. AREU points out that capacity building will be a “complicated, long -term process because it involves not just changes in individual knowledge and abilities, but changes in how organisations operate”. The International Institute for Educational Planning(IIEP)  defines capacity development  as “any activity which aims explicitly at strengthening a country so that it can betterachieve its development objectives by having a positive and sustainable impact on individual offi cers,organizations, public service as well as a motivating, stable and structured context without having negative effectson any of these levels ”. The IIEP, in a report entitled “ On the Road to Resilience: Capacity Development with theMinistry of Education in Afghanistan ” , suggests that strengthening the education sector should not only involvecapacity building within the MoE but also within the Ministry of Finance(MoF)and the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled(MoLSAMD). While the MoF provides the resources to fund education service provision, the MoLSAMD provides education to particularly vulnerable populations. In addition, the “Onthe Road to Resilience” report also sug gests a long-term strategy rather than short-term, project-based approach tocapacity building.The IIEP proposes a multi-layered capacity-building model such as the one proposed in Lynn Davies’s paper  on “ Capacity Development for Education Systems in Fragile Contexts ” ( Figure 2, next page ). This model depicts thespecific needs involved in capacity building and outlines the relationships between the various levels at whichcapacity building should take place (i.e., organisational, institutional and contextual). For instance, Davies pointsout that focusing exclusively on the individual level could result in limited success given that individuals maychange jobs frequently, thus taking their enhanced capacity with them. Box 1. Water and Sanitation in Schools and Impact on Female Enrolment   Schooling and education often include infrastructure beyond the typical classroom. For example UNICEF hasdeveloped a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programme to deliverwater and sanitation facilities andinformation to more than 500 schools. One common reason stopping girls from attending school is the lack of sanitation facilities when they reach menstruation. UNICEF program provides not only the latrines, incineratorsand hand washing stations but also encourage and propagate hygienic practices for girls.    February 2012 Page 4 Afghanistan Resource Desk: Challenges in the Education Sector Figure 2. Interrelations between Organisational, Institutional and Contextual Dimensionsand Needs for Capacity Development Source: “ Capacity Development for Education Systems in Fragile Contexts ”  , IIEP, 2009 .   Davies, in the model above, notes the interrelations between the different levels of capacity building and identifiesentry points for capacity-building. Utilising this framework, the IIEP finds a number specific challenges pertainingto capacity development in Afghanistan, which are summarised below.    Donors’ budgetary processes often impel them to address gaps in education sector capacities in the short term rather than investing in building capacities in the medium or long terms.    The lack of capacity, the complex donor procedures and other factors cause allocated resources to go un-spentdespite the fact that these resources are needed.    The low salaries of the civil servants such as teachers severely impact their motivation, thus making itdifficult for the education sector to retain qualified and skilled staff.    The disparities in pay between civil servants and technical advisors hired by the international community keepqualified and skilled personal from applying for civil service positions within the education sector.
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