No sustainable development without access to quality education

Abdul Sami Zhman, Social Watch Afghanistan
Watch on Basic Rights Afghanistan Organization (WBRAO)
Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (CHA)
Sanayee Development Organization (SDO)
Cooperation for Peace and Development (CPD)
Organization of Human Resource Development (OHRD)
Saba Media Organization (SMO)

In September 2000, when the Millennium Summit was held at the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan was suffering from conflict and could not participate in the formulation of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Government endorsed the Millennium Declaration as well as the MDGs only in March 2004. However, having lost over two decades to war, it has had to modify the global timetable and benchmarks to fit local realities. The rest of the international community defined the MDGs to be attained by 2015, against a baseline of 1990. Because of its lost decades and the lack of available information, Afghanistan has defined its MDG contribution as targets for 2020 from baselines of 2002 to 2005.

Despite extreme poverty, ill health, and hunger, Afghans define the lack of security as their greatest problem. Hence the Government of Afghanistan has added this new goal to the eight global MDGs recognizing the critical role of peace and security in achieving the other MDGs.

Afghanistan and the Post-2015 Agenda

Achieving the MDGs by 2015 is challenging but possible. Much depends on the fulfillment of MDG-8—the global partnership for development. As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stated, the current economic crises besetting much of the developed world must not be allowed to decelerate or reverse the progress that has been made.

Although the MDGs will not be achieved by 2015, the goals are still valid and are to be considered as part of Sustainable Development Goals for the post-2015 Agenda. While the MDGs are not wrong, the strategies to achieve them need critical reflection. In Afghanistan, our people still suffer food insecurity, poor or no access to primary education, gender inequality, high rates of maternal and child mortality and morbidity, environmental problems, a fragile route to stability and sustainable development, all of which remain priorities.

World communities have learned the art of living in peace and have developed foundations to sustain peace and security. Afghanistan after three decades of war and conflict also needs to learn the art of living in peace. The key lies in education.

The Right to Education

Education has proven to be the foundation of every society and good news for its bright future, and access to education is a certain and fundamental right of all human beings, children in particular. It is famously said, "Where the gate of a school opens, the gates of ignorance are closed."

The right to education is enshrined in various verses of the Holy Quran: “Read! And your Lord is the Most Generous, Who has taught by the pen. He has taught human beings that which he knew not.” This statement is Allah's swearing and alerting His creatures to what He has favored them with by teaching them the skill of writing, through which knowledge is attained.

The right to education is also enshrined in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the States parties to the Covenant have recognized every person's right to education. Primary education should be compulsory and made available for all, free of charge. And Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) emphasizes that the right to education is essential for every child and points out that this right should be provided based on equality of opportunity.

The Afghan Constitution has embraced the right to free education for all Afghan nationals in the state educational institutions up until the Bachelor's degree; it obliges the state to develop education in a balanced manner across the country, provide compulsory intermediate education, design and implement effective programmes, and provide the ground for teaching in mother tongues where such tongues are spoken.

As per Article 44 of the Afghan Constitution, the state has the duty to design and implement effective programmes in order to create educational balance and develop education for women, improve the education of the Kuchis and eliminate illiteracy. Article 3 of the Law on Education also has specified: "The nationals of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan have an equal right to education without any kinds of discrimination."

Access to and Quality of Education

Student enrolment in Afghanistan has increased eight-fold in the last nine year, from less than a million in 2001 to over 7.3 million in 2010, with a current enrolment of 38 percent girls. Over 9,000 new schools have been established to facilitate easy access to education and over 12,500 general and Islamic schools are operational in all parts of the country. To cater for enrolment of new students, over 200,000 new teaching and support staff have been recruited and deployed to schools over this period.

Despite significant progress, Afghanistan still has a large number of out of school children (4.5 million, mostly girls). Strategies to increase enrolment and retention of students, particularly girls, include public awareness activities and advocacy for girls’ education, community-based schools, school food programmes, recruitment of female teachers from urban centres and relocation to rural schools, and expansion of teacher education colleges to provinces and districts with provision of incentives to female teacher trainees.

UN estimates put school attendance in Afghanistan at about 6 million children, 35 percent of whom are girls. Of the children who are able to attend school, half have no real school buildings but go to classes in tents. Girls walking to or from school risk being assaulted with acid. Teachers have been killed and parents who allow girls to attend school have been attacked and only 30 percent of girls have access to education. A public call for education for women is considered blasphemous.

With reference to adult literacy, more than 10.5 million people, are illiterate throughout the country; 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate.

Insecurity in some provinces has resulted in closing some of the schools and depriving a large number of students of education. In the current year, 502 schools in 71 districts of 10 provinces (Farah, Kandahar, Zabul, Uruzgan, Paktika, Helmand, Khost, Paktia, Badghis and Nimroz) were or remained closed and as a result approximately 114,000 students are no longer able to continue to their education.

According to Ministry of Education planning norms the average student teacher ratio is 35:1. In 1389/2010 the average student teacher ratio was 43.7:1. In 1390/2011 the increase in students’ enrolment was 14% while the increase in total number of new positions provided by Ministry of Finance (MoF) to education was only 4.6% (10,000) including teachers and administrative staff. It is clear that this number is not adequate and negatively affects education quality. Moreover, 68% of the general education teachers do not meet the standard qualifications for a trained professional teacher (grade 14 graduate of Teacher Education Colleges), or their qualification is lower than grade 12.

 In addition, there are no qualified female teachers in 230 districts out of 412 rural and urban districts. As a result, retention and continuation of girls’ education in secondary grades is seriously restricted; there is no girl in upper secondary grades in 159 districts.

Education Financing

The Government of Afghanistan is not in a position to fund all operating budgets from its revenues and has been dependent on international assistance to fill the gap. The expectation is that Afghanistan will continue to need international assistance for the coming three to five years to fill the shortfall in the operating budget. The development budget has been funded 100 percent by the international community, a situation that will continue into the future.

Indeed, the progress in access to education in Afghanistan so far has been made possible with the generous support of the donor community, the amount of which has increased over the past years. Due to lack of internal resources, donors’ contributions to education are preconditions for success in achieving the Education Interim Plan objectives and MDG and Education for All (EFA) goals. In order for the National Education Interim Plan to be successfully implemented, USD 3.25 billion is required (1.42 billion for the development budget and 1.83 billion for the operating budget over the next three years). The development funding should be fully aligned with the Interim Plan. If education does not receive the necessary resources, Afghanistan will face delays in achieving its commitments to the MDGs and EFA goals.

The demand for education in Afghanistan has increased significantly, and the Government of Afghanistan has taken a multifaceted approach to meet this demand. This includes the provision of education by the private sector, which now provides pre-primary, primary, secondary, tertiary, and vocational training. Afghan businesses are also paying for construction of schools and provision of school supplies. Communities have also contributed by providing land or free labor for the construction of school buildings. A cross sector approach has permitted communities to prioritize education and direct development funds from other areas, for example, accessing funds through the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (MRRD) National Solidarity Programme, the Afghanistan Stabilization Programme or the counter narcotics fund.

In March 2011, Afghanistan became a developing country partner of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), which represents significant international endorsement of the Government’s plans and capacity to achieve the Education for All goals and is seen as a critical milestone in the development of its education sector. The  Global Partnership for Education fund will provide USD 55.7 million for the Afghan Government to promote education quality in the war-torn country. The programme targets 55 districts in 13 provinces that are characterized by high rates of poverty, remoteness, harsh terrain, low population density, insecurity, and conservative social attitudes, particularly towards the education of girls. Gender disparities are particularly pronounced in all of these districts. As such, the GPE Programme focuses on the most disadvantaged children in Afghanistan and is aligned with GPE strategic areas.

Promoting Peace through Quality Education

For the first time in the history of Afghanistan textbooks on Life Skills were developed for grades one to three in 2004- 2006. These textbooks cover issues related to peace with oneself such as emotional intelligence and peace with others such as problem-solving, decision-making, conflict resolution and reconciliation skills. Also, peace, psycho-social well-being, non-violence and reconciliation-related topics were incorporated into language, social and religious textbooks. The teacher education package on pedagogy includes sessions on diversity, fear-free classrooms and justice in the classroom.

Through these initiatives, over 7 million children are being provided with awareness and education on importance of peace building and living in peace; and through children, peace awareness is being raised in nearly all families in Afghanistan. Schools have been serving as the platform for bringing together people from different social groups to discuss the education for their children, and meanwhile have facilitated dialogues and interactions among community members on peace and security in the community.

The Government of Afghanistan is committed to promoting peace by providing quality education to all children and teaching them tolerance, mutual respect, and how to live peacefully with each other.


UNDP Afghanistan, Afghanistan MDGs overview. Available at: <>

UN, MDG Report 2012, Foreword, New York, 2012, p.3.

Ministry of Education, Afghanistan, Response to EFA Global Monitoring Report – 2011.

Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, Fair access of children to education in Afghanistan, Kabul, September 2009.

The Holy Quran, Surat Al-Alaq, Aya 3-5. See:

Ministry of Education, Response to the Education for All Global Monitoring Report – 2011, Kabul, 2012.


Ministry of Education, 1390/2011 Annual Progress Report. Kabul, 2011.




Ministry of Education, Response to EFA Global Monitoring Report - 2011



Ministry of Education, Response to EFA Global Monitoring Report - 2011


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