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Education troubles in Afghanistan
By Latika Padgaonkar, UNESCO New Delhi

  In the twenty years of war and internal strife in Afghanistan, education has taken a beating. Different areas of the country have changed hands frequently between warring parties, and in these unsettled conditions children have suffered most.

  "Education services have been paralysed," says Dr Anjum ul Haque, Programme Specialist in UNESCO's Islamabad Office. "Data collection is near impossible in the absence of a universally recognized and acceptable national government."
  Presenting a paper on the education scene in Afghanistan at a meeting convened recently by UNESCO in Kathmandu to assess the progress made by countries towards Education for All, Dr Haque stated that difficulties with data collection in Afghanistan were compounded by a large floating population and the absence of a census.
 However, some data were collected for UNESCO's assessment exercise under an initiative by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in which UNESCO collaborated with the United Nations Children's Fund, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Swedish Committee for Afghanistan and Save the Children (USA). It shows that the number of schools has halved in the last twenty years. In 1990 all provinces had schools; in 1995, nine provinces had none at all. In 1990, the United Nations and other agencies supported 600 schools; today they support only 200.
Few schools for girls

  Girls' education has been severely comprised. In 1978, at the time of the Soviet invasion, all provinces had girls' schools. In 1990 however, only one out of every five schools was for girls, and the provinces of Ghor, Helmand, Oruzgan and Zabul had no girls' school at all; three years later, this ratio dropped to 13.2 per cent. Today, only 18.5 per cent of enrolled children are girls, even in schools led by international agencies. The Taliban edict on girls' education has led to a whopping 65 per cent drop in their enrolment. In schools run by the Directorate of Education, only 1 per cent of the pupils are girls.

  The percentage of female teachers, too, has slid from 59.2 per cent in 1990 to 13.5 per cent in 1999. Of these, 96 per cent work in schools run by agencies.
  "Education services continue to be provided by the local administration on a sporadic basis," said Dr Haque. "A large number of teachers, particularly female, continue to draw salaries without going to school."
  According to the Afghanistan report, the preoccupation of the local authorities with war "has resulted in a reduced concern for the education of children." Whereas the country had 3,459 primary schools in 1978, there were only 589 in 1990. This does not include the 200 schools run by agencies, but even this support is on the decline.
  Such rudimentary information notwithstanding, it is clear that political uncertainty, the lack of national data and large-scale migration prevent a clear picture from emerging. Dr Haque is emphatic that "the above gives an indication of general rather than absolute trends."

A women teacher leads a class of five boys, seated on makeshift furniture in a war-damaged classroom in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan.

© UNICEF/95-0226/Jeremy Hartley
(This photo may not be reproduced )

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