Public education is a relatively recent concept in Afghanistan. It wasn't until 1969 that the Afghan government legislated free, mandatory education for children between the ages of 7 and 15. Unfortunately, the provision of schools, teachers, and books lagged far behind the legislation.
Before 1969, schools existed, but whether or not a child attended school was completely up to his or her family. Some families thought that education was important and made sacrifices to secure their children’s education, including sending them away to relatives if local schooling wasn't available. Other families provided religious training for their sons. Some families simply did not send their children to school.
It was still possible to receive an education, and determined families with sufficient resources could educate their children. There were secondary schools in urban areas and a university in Kabul. Since all education above the primary level was provided in Dari, all educated Afghans are fluent in that language, regardless of their ethnic group.
During the Soviet occupation, the Soviets were interested in building up the education system and extending education into the rural areas but their efforts failed. It was reported that in at least one area the Afghans responded to the establishment of Soviet-backed schools by killing the teachers, ostensibly because boys and girls were expected to sit in the same classroom. After the Soviets withdrew, what was left of the education system fell completely apart in the ensuing civil war. Kabul University closed, its faculty members dispersing to Pakistan, Iran, or the West. Children were either taught at home, in the local mosque, or not at all.
Under the Taliban, secular education did not exist. Boys received religious education, but girls were forbidden education altogether. Parents who wanted their children educated had to arrange for private tutoring in informal groups at home.
Following the fall of the Taliban, Kabul University was reopened to both male and female students. In 2006, the American University of Afghanistan also opened its doors, with the aim of providing a world-class, English-language, co-educational learning environment in Afghanistan. The university accepts students from Afghanistan and the neighboring countries. Construction work will soon start at the new site selected for University of Balkh in Mazari Sharif. The new building for the university, including the building for the Engineering Department, would be constructed at 600 acres (2.4 square kilometers) of land at the cost of $250 million (USD). A new military school is in function to properly train and educate Afghan soldiers.
As of 2013, more than 10 million male and female students were enrolled in schools throughout Afghanistan. However, there are still significant obstacles to education within the country due to lack of funding, unsafe school buildings, and cultural norms. A lack of women teachers is an issue that concerns some Afghan parents, especially in more conservative areas. Some parents will not allow their daughters to be taught by men.
Literacy of the Afghan population is estimated at 28.1% (male 43.1%; female 12.6%), although real figures may be lower. There are approximately 16,000 schools in the country.
Despite the dramatic increase in the number of schools in Afghanistan, many fall short, providing lackluster education in broken-down buildings, and undersupplied, overcrowded classrooms, teaching for only a few hours before the next shift of students arrives. Teachers are frequently unqualified, having never graduated high school themselves. There is an unfortunate tendency for well-meaning organizations to build schools and move on, leaving the school’s fate in the hands of haphazard local administration and chance. Sadly, many investments in Afghanistan’s education are short-lived.
This is why, for the seventh straight year, Razia’s Ray of Hope has sponsored and operated the Zabuli Education Center, provides more than 550 girls with free education as well as uniforms, shoes, warm coats, and meals. Our Afghan staff of 28 teachers and administrators is supported by a small, US-based foundation team. We provide groundbreaking instruction to disadvantaged girls in a region with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Where many existing schools fail to meet even rudimentary standards, our school is exemplary. A Ministry of Education official said of the Zabuli Education Center: “It is perfect.”
Sponsoring one student is only $300 a year. The life of every student we add to our school is permanently changed for the better; these changes ripple through their family, community, and country. Donate here to change a girl’s life forever.
Sources: Embassy of Afghanistan, Washington DC; Afghan Ministry of Education; Cal.org.