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Part I: Descriptive Section



1. The assessment of Afghanistan’s progress towards the goals and targets of EFA is the subject of this report. In making this assessment, use has been made of published school data for the first half of EFA decade. In addition, school data for 1999 has been collected from 25 International NGOs/Aid Agencies supporting basic education in 22 of the 29 Afghan Provinces. Data has also been collected from Directorates of Education of 24 of these provinces. For assessing the qualitative aspects of school education, a number of case studies have also been conducted.


2. The purpose is to present a broad overview of status of basic education services in Afghanistan so as to providing an assessment of progress. The exercise proposes to analyze data with a view to identifying problems, issues and constraints and recommending strategies that may be adopted in future.

Limitations of Data

3. Because of continued state of war since 1978, there is no national authority that could provide authentic data for any year. Inaccessibility of different areas during collection of data, at different points of time, makes these time series incomparable.


(a) Access and equity

4. Afghanistan had an early childhood development programme as far back as 1980. The programme kept growing till 1990 when 195 centres were providing child care services. Deteriorating security situation adversely affected the demand and number of centres came down to 88. In 1999, only 1 of the Agencies reported support for an early childhood centre at Nangarhar. The early childhood sector is virtually non-existent.

  1. The total number of primary schools has increased during the EFA 2000 decade while the number of agency supported schools has decreased. Educational facilities are now more evenly distributed than ever before in terms of distribution across provinces). Closure of girls’ schools by the Talibans has, however, lowered the proportion of female students considerably. Girls schools represent only 14.9% of the total number of schools, the majority of whom are supported by Agency schools.
  2. The gross enrollment ratio for boys has increased during the decade and declined for girls. Further girls represent only 7.2% of the school enrollments. This represents a steady decline during the EFA period. The situation would be much worse without the support of Agency schools.
  3. Both the Agencies and the Directorate are operating non-formal education centres, in 12 of the 29 provinces, and are providing a mixture of literacy and skill development. A large number of these centres are open to both sexes, providing access to girls in 62 per cent of centres.

(b) Distribution dimension

8. There exists considerable variation across regions on a number of Indicators. The Western and Northern Regions seem to be the least effectively served, while the Central and Southern regions seem to be relatively advantaged. Due to growing demand for education, schools have sprung up even in provinces that were formerly not served. Establishment of home-schools, with the support of Agencies, has contributed to more equitable distribution of educational facilities.

(c) Efficiency of the system

9. The cohort analysis indicates that for every 1000 children enrolled in year 1 433 children survive in the school system until year 6 This represents an improvement since 1993, however the quality of the progess has yet to be determined. The co-efficient of efficiency is 57.7%. It takes 15 pupil years to produce each female year 6 graduate and 10 pupil years to produce each male year 6 graduate.

Progress toward EFA Goals and Targets

10. The data available indicates some progress towards the goals and targets of EFA. But the final assessment of progress should take the following facts into consideration:

11. Strong and growing demand for modern education for both boys and girls and the willingness of the community to participate hold the key to the future.


12. To accelerate progress towards EFA goals, a program needs to be developed that involves three major initiatives.

    1. The existing co-ordinating mechanism for the activities of the NGOs needs to be made more effective and responsive to present educational needs.
    2. A clear set of objectives need to be identified that are achievable in the short term and are associated with building ‘lighthouse’ initiatives that have the ability to be implemented broadly as reconstruction commences.
    3. Finally, and most importantly, some form of leadership needs to be identified that has the complex range of skills necessary to evolve a suitable set of objectives and able to identify a way of achieving them..

13. These three objectives should be seen as preconditions for any significant progress. The following recommendations are made to achieve these objectives:

Proposal 1 The present set up of NGO co-ordination has undergone thematic change, both in terms of membership and ideology. The Executive Board of the co-ordinating body should include heads of NGOs who are capable of and willing to carry out meaningful needs assessments and subsequent planning to keep in line with changing needs and roles as per situation.

Proposal 2 The Executive Board of the co-ordinating mechanism should prioratize the short-term and long term objectives and should assign a specific development task in a specialised field of endeavour to each NGO, such as curriculum, assessment, or teacher training.

Proposal 3 The Executive Board should aim at delivery of educational service to all provinces in an efficient and effective manner. The further development of suitable indicators for these functions will be an ongoing challenge.

Proposal 4 To ensure cost-effectiveness, the Executive Board may consider measures to encourage NGOs with a small component of school education spread over different provinces to evolve, on voluntary basis, a consortia of NGOs. This would minimise overhead and administrative costs and would enable more effective delivery of educational services.

Proposal 5 Efforts should be made to obtain funding commitments for longer periods of time (say 3 years) to facilitate effective planning.

Proposal 6 The Executive Board should build upon and develop a range of alternative strategies already begun (eg home schooling) and suggested by Rugh. However, these should be well documented, adequately evaluated and expertise in their wider implementation developed. They should be an available technology rather than a project.

Proposal 7 Specialist units be established within NGOs to provide services to the whole sector. The focus would be on providing quality services and in helping to preserve an infrastructure of Afghan expertise.

None of the above can be achieved without exemplary leadership. Just how this can be provided in the interim period before stable government is in place is the most problematic issue of all.

Index Values for Afghanistan


Indicator N


Indicator value

Gender Parity Index



Gross enrolment ratio in Early Childhood Development (ECD).




Percentage of new entrants to grade 1 with ECD experience.



3, 4

Intake rates (AIR and NIR) in primary education.




5, 6

Enrolment ratios (GER and NER) in primary education.




7 8

a) Public current expenditure on primary education as a % of GNP

b) Public current expenditure per pupil on primary education as a % of GNP per capita; and Public current expenditure on primary education as a % of total public current expenditure on education.




% of primary teachers with required academic qualifications;




% of primary teachers who are certified to teach.




Pupil-teacher ratio in primary education




Repetition rates by grade in primary education (*)





Survival rate to grade 5;




Coefficient of efficiency at grade 5 and at the final grade (*)






% of pupils who master basic learning competencies



16, 17

Adult Literacy rates 15-24 years and 15 years and over;

20%to 30%


Literacy Gender Parity Index (GPI)


* Calculated in the linked file: COHORT.XLS.
** On worksheets that present data by gender, automatic calculations of the Gender Parity
Index are included in the last column on the right.


Afghanistan, a landlocked country in the center of Asia, comprises of high mountains, forests, deserts and fertile valleys. It has a vast landmass of 652 090 Sq. km. inhabited by an estimated 25.8 million people (1999). The overall density of population is as low as 40 per sq. km. However, the population is very unevenly distributed - having 489.4 persons per sq. km. in Kabul province and 0.7 persons per sq. km. in Nimroz province.

For administrative purposes the country is divided into twenty-nine provinces

Each province is further divided into smaller administrative units called districts and sub-districts. Authorities responsible for running the affairs of these units work under direction and supervision of the provincial governor or wali. A political map of Afghanistan showing different provinces is at Page (i).

Afghanistan introduced free and compulsory primary schooling as far back as 1935 and yet 69.5 per cent people are illiterate in 1999 (85 per cent female population is illiterate). The Constitution of 1964, drawn up by King Zahir Shah, guaranteed free and compulsory education for all. In 1980, 89 per cent of people 25 years and above had no schooling and only 0.3 per cent had completed first level. The mean year of schooling for Afghans is estimated at 0.8 by the Human Development Report 1991. With this scenario in mind, Afghanistan resolved to work for the goals and targets set in the Framework for Action to Meet Basic Learning Needs at Jomtein in March 1990.

Afghanistan had one of the lowest sets social indicators in the world even before the Russian invasion. Over twenty years of war and internal strife could only result in destruction of social and economic infrastructure. Countryside, where about eighty per cent population lives, has been badly affected for most part of this strife. By contrast urban areas experienced relatively greater stability. Migration of millions of people to neighbouring countries and to safer places within their country has resulted in destruction of services and socio-economic infrastructure. Afghanistan has hardly seen any long span of stability during the past two decades. Areas have changed hands frequently between warring parties resulting in frequent destabilization of regions and migration of people to safer places. Children are always the worst sufferers in such unsettled conditions. That educational services are still being provided in large part of the country is a testimony to the persistence of demand for education and to the conscience of international community.

Political perspective

Instability, internal strife and armed foreign interventions have plagued Afghanistan for centuries. The Year 2000 assessment of EFA programme is being made in the backdrop of continued turmoil in the immediately precedings decades. The Saur revolution of April 1978 brought to power a Soviet-dominated communist government at Kabul. To consolidate its position and lay foundations for a long-term social, economic and political reform, more than 50,000 Afghans of every age were sent "to the Soviet Union for training and education. About half of them were children between the age of 6 and 7 years." The resistance by Afghan Mujahideen that followed the Soviet invasion of December 1979 resulted in destruction of agriculture, economic ,educational and other infrastructures in Afghanistan. In 1983, the Afghan Foreign Minister admitted in the UN "that 50% of schools in Afghanistan were destroyed." Helsinki Watch reported arrest, torture and killing of religious dignitaries and other traditional elite under Taraki and Amin. It also reported closing of madrasas.

The withdrawal of Russian forces early in 1988 did not bring peace to Afghanistan. The rebel forces under a large number of local and regional commanders tried to dislodge the Soviet-backed government of Dr. Najibullah from power. After four years of fierce fighting and multi-lateral political negotiations, the Soviet government had to transfer its support from the Najibullah regime to an ‘Islamic Interim Government.’

The interim government formed in April 1992 failed to provide a viable national government and the struggle for power continued between various factions of Mujahideen, raising the spectre of division of the country along ethnic lines.

The emergence of the Talibans gave a new twist to power struggle. The Taliban movement, originating from Kandahar in 1994, spread rapidly "throughout the southwestern provinces gathering numerous volunteer, surrender of arms and the allegiance of entire provinces with scarcely a shot having to be fired." Through the same kind of dramatic offensive, the Talibans captured provinces between Kandahar and Kabul in 1994, from Helmand to Heart in 1995. In face of the Taliban onslaught on Kabul, the Islamic Interim Government had to evacuate Kabul in September 1996. Because of popular disenchantment with power struggles between different factions of mujahideen, the people supported the Taliban programme of restoration of peace, collection of weapons and enforcement of shari’a. The extremely puritanical interpretation of the shari’a by the Taliban, and strict enforcement of purdah and restrictions on female education and employment led to disillusionment both among the people and international community.

Scope of the Report

The purpose of this report is to present a broad overview of data and information on the status of basic education services in Afghanistan so as to provide an assessment of progress towards achievement of goals and targets of Education For All. The national data available will be disaggregated to bring out disparities in availability of educational services by region as well as gender. Analysis of data available will be presented with a view to identifying problems, issues and constraints and strategies that may be adopted in revising national plans for achieving EFA goals and targets.

Methodology and approach

The Technical Guidelines prepared by the International Consultative Forum on Education For All has proposed a number of characteristics and phenomena, including eighteen core educational indicators, that may be used to describe the main components of basic education. The guidelines have also suggested possible data sources including annual school reports, school surveys, statistical yearbooks published by the Ministry or Central Statistical Office. None of these data sources are relevant in the context of situation in Afghanistan.

In the absence of a universally recognized and acceptable national government in Afghanistan, collection of reliable and valid educational data from all over the country poses numerous problems. To meet this situation, a multi-pronged approach has been adopted for collection of data/information required to construct a comprehensive picture of country’s progress towards the goals set by it at Jomtein.

(a) Data reported in published documents

The status of basic education in Afghanistan as it existed in 1990 naturally forms the point of reference for this assessment of progress towards the goal of Education for All. However, educational data pertaining to 1978, wherever available, will be used to compare whether the ground lost since Russian invasion has been regained. An attempt has therefore been made to collect all possible data and information on the main components of basic education programmes as these have developed between 1990 to the end of the decade. Besides data reported in documents published by UNDP, UNICEF, UNESCO, and UNFPA, data reported in the following documents have been used:

UNO/ESSP. The Status of Education in Afghanistan. Final Report of School Survey Project, Vol. 1, June 1994.

UNICEF. Mid-Decade Review of Progress Toward Education For All in Afghanistan. July 1995.

Organized, systematic and regular services to meet demand for education in Afghanistan are being provided by a large number of Afghan and international NGOs besides UN and other international aid-agencies. The activities of these service providers are reported regularly by Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), a network of NGOs/Agencies working in Afghanistan. The data contained in the Database of Activities of NGOs for mid-term (1995) and end-of–the-decade (1999) have been analyzed and incorporated in this report.

Though the infrastructure of education has been largely paralyzed by twenty years of war, some educational services continue to be provided by local administration on a sporadic basis. Some schools are working and some teaching takes place, whenever war conditions so permit. To get a total picture of educational services available to children within the country, the Committee considered it prudent to collect data from all service providers.

(b) Data collected for this review

As ACBAR data does not provide school statistics on EFA core indicators, an exercise has been undertaken to collect more comprehensive data for this assessment. A three pronged strategy has been adopted for this data collection exercise.

Data collected from Pakistan-based NGOs/Agencies providing education in Afghanistan. An effort has been made to directly collect data from a sample of Pakistan-based NGOs/Agencies providing educational services in Afghanistan. A comprehensive data collection schedule was specifically designed with a view to collecting data required for estimating core EFA indicators. The returns from these organizations indicate that their primary purpose is to meet educational needs on an emergency basis. These organizations do not maintain school data in a form that can be used for assessment of progress on core EFA indicators.

Data collected from within Afghanistan. On a case study basis, collection of detailed basic education data has also been initiated in the provinces. Enumerators have collected properly authenticated district-wise data from the records of relevant Directorates of Education. The data collection schedule was the one used for collection of data from Pakistan-based NGOs. Some of the NGOs/Agencies, working within Afghanistan, do not have offices in Pakistan. While collecting data from Directorates of Education in different districts, enumerators also collected data from such agencies. The data from these agencies was combined with that from Pakistan-based agencies.

In all, data has been collected from 25 Agencies and 24 provincial Directorates of Education. List of Agencies from whom data was collected along with the number of institutions supported by them is at Annex II. Data has thus been collected from Agencies with different size of programmes, both from Agencies with very large programmes such as Swedish Committee for Afghans, CARE and Afghanistan Development Association as well as from Agencies with medium size programmes such as AGBASEd and SURVE. Data has also been collected from Agencies operating only one or two basic education facilities.

The coverage of data collected from Agencies is sufficiently wide. The 25 Agencies from whom data has been collected operate institutions in 22 of the 29 provinces (Annex IV). Thus, the data collected from agencies represents the situation in Afghanistan.

Case studies on quality of education. In addition to collection of quantitative school data from within Afghanistan, a number of case studies on some core EFA indicators have been commissioned. These studies are in various stages of completion and results are expected to be available soon.

Characteristics of available data

It is important to recognize the quality of data available for the End-of-Decade Review of EFA 2000. Firstly, no national data on education in Afghanistan is available. No assessment of the state of Afghan education can be made without covering refugees settled in different parts of Pakistan and Iran. For complete coverage, data also need to be collected in respect of children studying in private schools, both within and outside Afghanistan. Such an exercise can only be undertaken by a stable national government under normal and peaceful conditions.

Again, an assessment of core EFA indicators will need reliable data on population in relevant age groups. With Afghan population spread over in different countries and people within country continually shifting to safer places, such an estimate of size of relevant age groups can only be an academic exercise.

Data reported in published documents at different times is not comparable. The 1990 UNDP data is incomplete as it "excludes estimated 2,044 agency schools" and estimated 200,000 children in these schools. UNDP collected data with utmost care under very trying circumstances. The mujahideen were up in arms against the soviet supported government of Dr. Najibullah and schools in many areas were closed.

The UNO/ESSP survey 1993 "excludes schools of Kabul Province." The survey collected data from all schools "which were active and in session during the survey period." This could serve as a benchmark data as the survey was conducted soon after the multi-party Islamic Interim Government had been formed with the consent of all concerned.

ACBAR data for 1995 and 1999 cover schools organized only by those Agencies, which were associated with ACBAR. The data thus excludes many Agencies that are not affiliated with ACBAR. Data was collected for the EFA 2000 Assessment both from Agencies and from Directorates of Education in Afghanistan. Data was collected from a sample of Peshawar-based Agencies as well as Agencies operating from within Afghanistan. Thus, neither ACBAR data nor data collected for this Assessment are based on total enumeration of all Agencies working in the field of basic education.

The fact that the system of education in Afghanistan changed frequently from 8 + 4 to 6 + 3 + 3 during early 1990s also needs to be kept in mind in analyzing and interpreting school data compiled at different points of time. Thus, enrolment data reported in the 1993 survey pertains to eight classes rather than six.

Data reported in UNESCO Statistical Yearbook and UN Statistical Yearbook for Asia and Pacific is at variance with UNDP data. However, UNDP data has been used, as it is desegregated into provinces. Apart from being scanty and incomparable, the reliability of available data is highly questionable. Thus, the data needs to be considered more as indicative of certain general trends relating to status of education in Afghanistan.

The last population census for Afghanistan was conducted in 1978 and all published population statistics since then are extrapolations of this census data. However, all these extrapolations are based on a wide variety of assumptions (eg., annual growth assumptions vary between 1.9% and 6.6%) and can lead to population estimates varying between 20.6 million and 26.9 million. To try and extrapolate gender, regional and age cohort population estimates from such a base would be of limited reliability. If we add to this the contextual considerations such as civil strife, 6 million refugees and 2 million displaced persons, such estimates would become highly questionable. Hence, we have limited population estimates to larger groups, and such estimates should be treated with extreme caution.

Age cohort information held by schools is of doubtful validity due to lack of any systematic recording or registering of birth dated.

Within these limitations every effort will be made in this report to complete the Data Sheets provided with the Education for All: The Year 2000 Assessment Technical Guidelines. However, it must be realised that the resultant indicators will be based on incomplete data sets collected by survey. The committee has been made aware of a number of apparent inconsistencies between the data collected for this survey, some unofficial data from the Afghan Ministry and some data held by some NGOs. It has been impossible to reconcile these data sets, just as it has been impossible to reconcile data sets from various population estimates and some earlier surveys data (eg UNO/ESSP and ACBAR data). A decision has been made to faithfully report the data collected in this survey, with a warning that it is impossible to guarantee its complete accuracy. However, we believe the situation with regard to primary education in Afghanistan to be extremely clear- it is in a parlous state.

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