UNESCO ELA covers all provinces via SBL and BGL ©UNESCO/Sidiqzai

Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA) Programme 

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. The key interventions and support under the given programme include the following:

Curriculum and instructional materials development: Through the technical support of UNESCO, the Literacy Department (LD) has developed a curriculum framework for youth and adult education. The curriculum framework provides a harmonized framework for all literacy providers to standardize syllabi, curricula and instructional materials to meet diverse needs of illiterate and semi illiterate learners across the country. In addition, LD with the technical support of UNESCO Office in Kabul and the UNESCO Institute of Lifelong Learning (UIL) has also developed basic general literacy workbooks for adult literacy education, in line with the new curriculum framework, to be piloted in July 2017.

Monitoring and evaluation: ELA strengthens the M&E processes of the LD by focusing on monitoring the quality of teaching/learning and of outcomes, data processing and presentation. Through the technical support of UNESCO the LD has been able to set Non-Formal Education Management Information System (NFE-EMIS), which has been integrated into the Government’s Education Management Information System (EMIS). This initiative aims at enhancing LD capacity to collect data, collate, analyze and present it in the most accurate way possible.

Advocacy and communication: ELA implements advocacy activities to raise and promote awareness among policymakers, opinion leaders and other stakeholders through National/Provincial/District committees. In 2016, as part of the International Literacy Day, UNESCO and LD launched the UNESCO Bibigul Literacy Prize, the first such prize in Afghanistan to recognize government and non-governmental organizations that have demonstrated meritorious services to the people of Afghanistan through provision of adult literacy.

Development of national capacity: Efforts have been undertaken to embed technical and managerial capacity in the government structures (LD) so literacy provision can be sustained into future developments in all aspects of adult literacy. 

Skill-Based Literacy (SBL): SBL promotes literacy through embedding basic vocational skills in education, thus targeting both economic growth and literacy. Materials have been developed with plans to pilot SBL in 2017. 

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.  

ELA III provincial coverage:

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


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