Literacy courses give opportunities to an improved life for the disadvantaged in Afghanistan

“As a kid, seeing and hearing about doctors saving peoples’ lives, I would always dream about becoming a doctor”

Khadija is one of the thousands of learners who receives Basic General Literacy (BGL) courses, within the framework of the project entitled “Better Education Systems for Afghanistan’s Future” (BESAF), funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA). Within this project, among other activities, UNESCO supports the Ministry of Education (MoE) towards expanding access to and demand for adult education and literacy for marginalized and disadvantaged groups and communities aged 15 and above.

UNESCO’s monitoring team visited a few of the newly established BGL courses in Police District 16 of Kabul city. Most learners consist of elderly women and girls who did not have the chance to attend the formal school system, due to a variety of reasons. Many girls and women living in the rural areas of different provinces are suffering from the same destiny as Khadija. Their futures are shaped and created by their male family members, in addition to early marriage, poverty and the volatile security context.  Parents cannot afford girls going to school and boys reaching the age of adulthood having to work hard to support their families financially, thus missing the chance of going to school. In half of the country’s provinces, fewer than 20% teachers are female, which too has led to the significant absence of girls in schools.

Despite all these challenges and the year-long disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 which have further affected all sectors in Afghanistan, including the education sector, the MoE initiated the first phase of the BGL courses within the BESAF project in January 2021 in 12 provinces, covering 50 districts, to provide literacy services to 7,050 learners, 60% of whom are women above 15. The courses have further sparked the hopes and ambitions of learners to continue learning and improve their livelihoods. “When I first heard about the literacy courses, I happily joined as I thought this course would be the key to an improved quality of life”, said Muzhgan, 23, who grew up in the rural province of Kunduz, now living in PD 16 of Kabul city. “Until a few weeks back I had felt I was blind not being able to read and write properly. My life was like a black and white movie having no colors”. Muzghan has a great interest in tailoring and is now putting all her efforts in learning how to read and write to expand her knowledge in sewing through social media and using resources on the internet.

Through the BESAF project, UNESCO will continue to support the MoE with strengthening its capacity to develop, implement and monitor robust education sector plans, to revise curricula and learning resources for both formal and non-formal education and to increase access to general literacy and skills-based literacy programmes, with a particular focus on women. Since 2008 UNESCO has supported the MoE in the provision of 9-month Basic General Literacy courses to over 1 million learners in Afghanistan, providing them with basic reading, writing and numeracy skills.