Mobilizing for Quality Education and Literacy in Afghanistan
Literacy has improved our lives and we are eager to learn more: this was the message shared by a group of 20 Afghan women participating in UNESCO’s Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan programme, during a meeting in Kabul with Director-General Irina Bokova on 27 May 2016.
They had travelled to the UNESCO office from villages some 45 minutes outside the city, and, sitting around a table, many with babies and toddlers on their laps, the women spoke about their lives and the benefits of the classes in which they had enrolled after an announcement made in the community. The classes take place for two hours a day, six days a week, over a nine-month period.
Started in 2008 and now in its third phase, the programme, funded by Japan, Sweden and Finland, has benefited over 600,000 adults.
They said their husbands, who are in majority illiterate, are supportive of the classes, because they see the benefits for the family. From learning about health and hygiene to being able to go to the market, deal with shopkeepers and manage money, the classes are confidence builders.
“We are keen to extend the classes and to learn more. We would like to integrate skills with the literacy programme, like embroidery and tailoring,” they said. They referred to the expansion of the city encroaching on agricultural land, the main source of family income. Describing the poverty of the communities, the provincial and district coordinator for the literacy programme noted the need for additional support to increase facilitators’ wages and finance heaters for the classes in winter.
Dr Sardar Rahimi, the Deputy Minister of Education for Literacy, highlighted the human and financial challenges faced in a country where the literacy rate for women stands at 25 percent. With only 2 percent of the education budget allocated to literacy, he said there was a lack of capacity to manage and monitor classes. In an effort to increase grassroots engagement, the Ministry is drafting a national mobilization programme and is looking to gain experience from countries such as India that have a large network of community learning centres.
Building capacity is at the heart of UNESCO’s longstanding support to Afghanistan, from literacy to girls’ education to planning. Education Minister Assadullah Hanif Balkhi expressed appreciation for the Organization’s steady presence in the country and affirmed that education was a priority of President Ashraf Ghani’s administration.
Developed through a participatory approach with UNESCO’s technical assistance, the third National Education Strategic Plan for 2017-2021 focuses on two major challenges: improving education quality and the education of girls and women.
Minister Balkhi referred to the value of UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education’s assistance to reform the curriculum and of the International Institute of Educational Planning’s training of managers. He requested that more women be able to follow courses in order to work in the provinces because female leadership in in rural areas could help to overcome deep seated obstacles to girls’ and women’s education.
He said that competent trained teachers are lacking in rural areas, where awareness of education’s importance for girls remains low. Combined with poverty, lack of safe learning environments and of female teachers, cultural barriers are holding girls back, underlining the need to work with families to change perceptions and enable girls to continue their education. He said that more international support is required to keep girls in school and to meet the SDGs, and expressed the Government’s support for UNESCO to play an important role the upcoming second phase of the Global Partnership for Education.
The Director-General commended the Government’s strategic approach, emphasizing that putting in place the right policies and strategies is the key to building sustainable education systems and societies, and pledged UNESCO’s strong commitment to accompany Afghanistan’s development ambitions. "The vision is clear and the political commitment is there. Now we must accelerate and deliver with increased donor support to scale up the promising results for the benefit of all," concluded the Director General.
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