Syed Langari takes a look at the differences between public and private education in the country and what needs to be done to improve the sector
A Look At Education In Post-Taliban Afghanistan
Following the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan once again became the focal point of international politics. The implications of three decades of war and violence inflicted devastating harm on Afghanistan’s basic infrastructure along with its economic and educational structures.
By 2001 the country was in isolation but after the fall of the Taliban, doors of opportunity opened for Afghans and a new era of change came about – there were also socioeconomic and academic reforms.
The post-Taliban international political engagement in Afghanistan also led to generous financial and moral cooperation by the international community to Afghans.
Billions of dollars came in from donors to help the war-hit nation and with international cooperation, Afghanistan achieved numerous gains in key sectors which include the revival of the education sector, economic development, rule of law, democracy, civil liberties, human rights, women’s rights and health.
Afghan women and girls who were either veiled or in burqas during the Taliban regime and denied any form of education, were once again allowed to go to school and university – they were able to contribute to the development of their country.
After the ousting of the Taliban, the new Afghan political leadership, at the Bonn Conference in 2001 under the UN, pledged to the world that it would take the necessary steps towards preserving and reviving the rights of Afghan boys and girls regarding education.
With the passage of time, school doors once again reopened and millions of Afghan children were enrolled in educational institutions. Alongside state-run schools, hundreds of private schools and higher educational institutions were also established in the country.
Today, the revival of the education sector is often noted as one of the biggest achievements of the new political system in Afghanistan. However at the same time, the education sector has faced tremendous challenges in terms of quality and curricula.
In Afghanistan, when it comes to providing access to quality education for all, government run schools have a long way to go.
In the post-Taliban era, the Afghan government put much focus on the quantity of education, but not on quality education – which would have put Afghanistan on a par with the education sector in neighboring countries or at least comply with basic global requirements and minimum standards for schools.
But there is a perception that since private actors stepped into Afghanistan’s education sphere, government has stepped back from its obligations to provide quality education.
This shift risks eroding the gains in access to education for vulnerable children who due to fragile economic conditions cannot afford to attend private schools and benefit from a more advanced system of education.
Many families in Afghanistan are willing to invest in the education of their children by sending them to private institutions. But alongside public-schools, private schools are also to some extent not focusing on the requirements which can lead to a quality education revolution like advanced and industrialized nations.
In addition, there is no regular monitoring of these schools by government.
Presently, many families would like to send their children to private schools but are not able to do so due to poverty and financial hardships.
No doubt an educated Afghanistan is the only solution to the ongoing turmoil in the country but for this, government needs to invest heavily in both quality education and quantity education.
If our children are provided quality education in public schools, this will help us to grow as a nation.
Government should increase its monitoring of public and private schools. It should also modernize the educational curricula so that equal education is provided to both the poor and the wealthy. Many believe that private schools somehow create discrimination between rich and poor and the social gap can leverage more sense of deprivation among talented students who cannot afford a private education.
Public schools must be equipped with science labs for instance which is key for scientific development. But today there is no sign of such labs at public schools in Afghanistan.
This brings me to Irfan, a ten-year-old Afghan pupil, who shared his journey from public school to a private school.
Irfan is an Afghan pupil whose parents sent him to Kabul from Mazar-e-Sharif in the hope of him getting a better education.
First he went to a public school in the capital but his family felt he was not performing well and after two years moved him to a private school – at great expense.
While at the public school, Irfan complained about the lack of attention by his teachers and their disinterest in teaching the children. But a year ago, he was enrolled in a private school where the difference was immediately noticeable.
“In a week (at the public school), there was only two lessons and teachers would chase us out of the classrooms. Teachers were listening to music on their computers and were busy with social media such as Facebook. I learnt only a few things in government school during my two years,” said Irfan, who is now in class 5 in Kabul.
“Also there was no discipline in the school. Even pupils were coming to class wearing sports clothes and no one questioned this,” he said adding, “but at my private school, they teach well, teachers are quite disciplined and educated. We have computers and science labs and attend lab session twice a week where we learn new things. School staff and management work hard on the students. We have additional subjects with the Oxford system. Subjects of the ministry of education are also taught to us. There is also mathematics and science from Oxford.”
However, under the UN’s World Education Forum many countries are committed to work for the education of all. But ground realities show that still many people in impoverished countries are deprived of quality education.
In 2000, the United Nations established the World Education Forum in Dakar where 164 nations participated. Here they agreed on the idea of the Education for All (EFA) campaign.
The UN World Education Forum states that the EFA movement is a global commitment to provide quality basic education for all children, youth and adults.
At the forum in Dakar, 164 nations pledged to achieve education for all and identified six goals to be met by 2015.
However, more than a year after the deadline, governments, development agencies, civil society and private sector are still working together to reach these EFA goals.
Despite international cooperation for providing quality education to all children in the world, the process of providing quality education to the people in impoverished countries like Afghanistan has been fragile.
So far the majority of international donors have provided school bags, tents for lessons and some stationary to children in poverty-hit and war-stricken nations with a few exceptions. A far more substantial approach, especially in Afghanistan, needs to be taken.
For instance, there has been no survey so far to evaluate the education scenario in Afghanistan’s villages and remote regions in order to find out how many village children, especially girls, have access to education.
Although Afghanistan’s education sector has seen tremendous changes over the past 15 years, with the help of its international partners, a systematic process has not been carried out to institutionalize access to quality education for all Afghan girls and boys or to ensure access to schools for village girls.
Neither does there appear to have been anything done of real substance in the country so far under the EFA banner or by the Afghan government to change the radical approach of some people in villages toward girls education.
If we chant the slogan of education for all, then we should not discriminate against girls and there is a need for both genders to have equal access to education.
It is however, important to mention that corruption has been one of the major obstacles in the way of education in Afghanistan.
Earlier this month, the Minister of Education Assadullah Hanif Balkhi said that a recent study found that only six million Afghan children are in fact at school – contrary to the 11 million as previously stated by the former government.
This statement indicates that the education sector could possibly have been slightly rigged in Afghanistan which is a serious threat to the future of our children.
The government needs to take action against such irresponsible data collection and those involved in corruption in the education sector must be prosecuted.
In conclusion, more needs to be done to not only curb corruption in the education sector but government also needs to focus on improving the overall standard of education in public schools.
Government needs to improve the quality of teachers, ensure lessons are monitored and improve the curricula and facilities offered at schools to pupils – where a culture of discipline among teachers and students also needs to be developed.
Never forget, today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders.