MDG 2: Achieve Universal Basic Education

Case Study: Educating Girls in Afghanistan

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Literacy rates among adults remain low in Afghanistan due to multiple decades of conflict and major destruction of schools and other infrastructure. The literacy rate for young women aged 15-24 is 15%, while for young men, it is 50% . With one of the youngest populations in the world (percent of population under 16 years for boys is 49.9% and for girls is 50.7%) and a rapidly growing cohort of school-age children whose parents expect them to attend school, the demand of quality education will continue to grow for years to come.

Since 2002, USAID has supported initiatives to improve access to and the quality of basic and higher education. The outcomes of these initiatives include:

Girls students in Zard Sang class
Girls students in Zard Sang class
  • Based on 2012 data, 8.4 million children (50% of school-age ) attend school and 37% are female - a significant leap forward given that in 2002 only 900,000 students were formally enrolled in school, and nearly all were male.
  • We have provided continuing education for teachers to improve their subject knowledge, teaching methods, testing practices, and other skills, resulting in increased quality of primary and secondary education in 11 provinces.
  • Nearly 100 million new primarily school textbooks, based on a revised Afghan-developed curriculum, have been distributed.
  • USAID has provided community-based education in villages for 42,000 children and established local school management councils in 1,600 communities.
  • At the university level, USAID has supported the faculties of education at 16 universities and created a new Master of Education degree at Kabul Education University.

As we close in on 2014, USAID will continue to have a robust focus on assistance to women and girls both through our education programming as well as through our larger portfolio.

Challenges and Progress

The education sector continues to face significant constraints in achieving MDG goals. The past 30 years of war and conflict has created challenges which have degraded capacity, disrupted educational development, and discouraged educational reform. Poverty and lack of security remain major causes of low enrollment and poor attendance rates, and girls remain under-enrolled. About 3.5 million school-age children are out of school, 75% of which are girls.

Despite the challenges, progress can certainly be reported. Community and family support have been on the rise for both girls and boys. The success of education service delivery in both urban and rural areas depends on attitude and support given by communities towards the education of their children. In the 2012 Survey of the Afghan People, the Asia Foundation found that the opening of schools for girls was cited as one of the top reasons for optimism in their country.

The Need for Teachers

Progress has been made on problems of physical access through establishing and building new facilities in underserved areas. However, the level and quality of students' learning achievement remains low and unsatisfactory, especially in the early grades. The proportion of girls enrolled in each grade since 2003 shows that about 40% of the children in grade 1 are girls, but by grade 12 the proportion falls to a little over 25%. The lack of female teachers is a primary reason for the dropout rate for girls. Through the continued implementation of our education portfolio as well as our newly announced PROMOTE Program, USAID plans to both continue to focus on education for the population and at the same time build the capacity of women and girls who have recently finished school in order to enable them to enter a wide variety of professions as the technical, management and leadership levels.

An estimated 207,000 teachers are currently employed of whom about 70,300 are female. If one third of the female school graduates became teachers each year, this would quickly reduce the under representation of girls in the teaching force.

Educating Girls in Afghanistan
Educating Girls in Afghanistan

Continued Commitment

Investments from USAID, the World Bank, DANIDA, DFID and other international partners, alongside the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, are showing results. Young women and men have graduated from the public school system - the first cohort to have access to uninterrupted education since 2002. USAID has addressed the critical need for qualified teachers and, to date has helped train more than 74,000 Ministry of Education (MoE) teachers, of whom 31 percent were female. Support to strengthen quality basic education will continue throughout the Transformation Decade (through 2024) including through support to the World Bank managed EQUIP-II project via the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF). EQUIP-II is training teachers and providing technical assistance to help create a unified, nationwide teacher training system.

Many of the young people who benefit from investments in education, such as physics teacher, Mursal, are advancing their lives to obtain higher education degrees through the USAID-supported Master of Education degree program at Kabul Education University. The Afghan teachers who graduate will be bringing their teaching expertise to young girls and boys who now have greater access to quality education than ever before.

¹UN Girls Education Initiative:

Related Sectors of Work 

Last updated: September 12, 2014

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