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Image: Education
 Photo: Elisabet Eikås
Photo: Elisabet Eikås


Afghanistan has seen significant progress in the past years. Many more schools have opened and attitudes towards education have changed, allowing 40% of girls to go to school. However, Afghanistan has a long way to go to reach the UN millennium development goal of all children, boys and girls, completing primary education.

More schoolchildren than ever

School education has never been common in Afghanistan, particularly not for girls. As late as the 1970s, only 2% of women and 13% of men could read. Even after a period of moderate modernisation and relative stability, 8% of girls and 37% of boys were registered at schools in 1979. In the following decades, instability and poverty made it even harder for children to go to school. Under taliban rule, 1996-2001, practically no girls had access to school education.

These girls are among the lucky ones. They attend high school in the relatively peaceful Jaghori district in Ghazni. Photo: NAC.In the light of this, the current level of school attendance in Afghanistan is extraordinary. UNICEF estimates that 40% of girls and 66% of boys currently attend primary school. (The numbers for registration are much higher, but give a false picture of real attendance.) 20% of all girls and 40% of all boys finish six years of primary education and almost all of these continue to secondary school. All in all, the school system in Afghanistan intends all children to fulfil 12 years of education, primary and secondary.

Far from reaching international goals

Many parents are unwilling to send girls to school unless it is guaranteed that they will be taught by a female teacher. Photo: NAC.However, there is still a long way to go. The good news that 40% of girls go to school has a darker side - namely that 60% of girls do not go to school. Security challenges and cultural barriers are some of the main obstacles. This is particularly true in the south of Afghanistan, where the Taliban have directly targeted everything that has to do with female education, school buildings, teachers and pupils. In 2012, 500 schools were closed because of security concerns, according to the World Bank. Many children also forego education because their area has no school building, no teacher or no textbooks. If a school only has a male teacher, some families will not allow their girls to go to school.

Structural stumbling blocks

The quality of education is also lacking. Although teachers are receiving training in their profession, around half of them have not finished secondary education themselves. Half of all schools don’t have a proper school building. Text books and other equipment are of poor quality or simply unavailable.

Other structural factors hinder children in getting the most out of education. A quarter of Afghan children are subjected to child labour. Malnourishment can slow mental development. Unsafe drinking water and a lack of sanitary facilities increase absences due to illness.

The main emphasis in recent years has been on primary and secondary education. Although universities and colleges have sprouted up in the past years, many who complete secondary education do not get the opportunity to study further. 


“Bringing 6 million children back to school”, by World Bank Afghanistan.

Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2010-2011: Final Report, by the Central Statistics Organisation (CSO) [Afghanistan] and UNICEF. 

    Norwegian Afghanistan Committee
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