Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA) program  

Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, currently estimated at about 31% of the adult population (over 15 years of age). Female literacy levels are on average 17%, with high variation, indicating a strong geographical and gender divide. The highest female literacy rate, for instance is 34.7%, found in the capital, Kabul, while rate as low as 1.6% is found in two southern provinces of the country.. Male literacy rates average about 45%, again with high variation. The highest male literacy rates are in Kabul, at 68%, while the lowest is found in Helmand, at 41%.

This high variation between male and female literacy rate, is due to combination of factors, such as cultural norm of women not attending school and spending time managing the household, security problems in travelling to classes, and sometimes family not allowing women to attend classes. The disparity in urban and rural areas in adult education rate is due to several factors as well, including security problems, lack of schools in remote areas, long walking distance to schools, and low demand for literacy in particular for women literacy, due to cultural barriers.

In response to these literacy disparities, and the national literacy priorities articulated in a number of national policy documents, UNESCO has been implementing a large scale literacy project of Enhancement of Literacy Afghanistan (ELA). The Programme for Enhancement of Literacy Afghanistan (ELA) is a national programme of Ministry of Education (MoE) that aims to improve the level of literacy, numeracy and vocational skills of the adult population in all 34 provinces.

With financial assistance from the Government of Japan during the first and second phases of the programme, the ELA programme remained the largest literacy intervention in the Education Sector. The programme enabled graduation of 600,000 (60% female) youth and adults from literacy provisions under ELA.

Since 2008, the programme has been implemented in three phases. The first phase (2008-2010) commenced with a pilot in the capital city of Bamiayan province and expanded to nine provinces in 2009. The second phase of programme (2011-2013) was implemented in an additional nine provinces. The programme not only resulted in an increased number of people becoming literate, but also expanded the livelihood opportunities to targeted literacy graduates by training them in 34 locally market-demanded vocational skills.

The third phase of the programme began in 2014 and will continue to March 2018, aiming to provide literacy to 600,000 learners across 30 provinces. This phase is supported with generous grants from the Government of Japan, 20m USD approximately, Swedish International Cooperation Agency (SIDA), 9.3m USD approximately, and Government of Finland, 3m USD approximately.

Jointly programmed with the Deputy Ministry of Education for Literacy, the programme shall provide literacy services including embedded skills-based literacy through demand-driven and learner-centred approaches, while building the national capacity in literacy sector.

One of the key outcomes of the ELA III is the revision of curriculum for adult’s literacy and development of curriculum for skills-based literacy, both to be used throughout the country.  

Target province and districts


No. of provinces

No. of districts

Name of provinces




Japan -Badakhshan, Balkh, Bamiyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Nangarhar, Paktika, Samangan, Wardak





Japan - Badghis, Faryab, Ghazni, Khost, Kunar, Nimroz, Nooristan, Urozgan, Zabul, Badakhshan, Balkh, Bamiyan, Daikundi, Ghor, Nangarhar, Paktika, Wardak, Samangan





Japan - Nangarhar, Balkh, Ghazni, Faryab, Badakhshan, Ghor, Wardak, Khost, Badghis, Daykundi, Kunar, Bamyan,  Samangan, Zabul, Nimroz, Nuristan

Sweden - Baghlan, Helmand, Hirat, Jawzjan, Kandahar, Kapisa, Kunduz, Laghman, Paktia

Finland: Kabul, Takhar and Sar-e-pul


ELA III provincial coverage:

UNESCO, Wardak Province, 20 Aug 2013. Facilitator and leaner sharing their experience from ELA II.

UNESCO, Ghor Province, 2012, A basic and skills based literacy graduate who utilized her knowledge to pursue knitting for income.

Back to top