Spreading the Word – Afghanistan

August 2004

After decades of war, the provision of education is one of Afghanistan’s main requirements in the process of reconstruction. In 2002, the World Bank reopened its office in Kabul and committed funds to an Emergency Education Rehabilitation and Development Project. This and the efforts of organisations such as Swedish Committee for Afghanistan have contributed to a rapid increase in the number of women teachers in schools, and helped the education system reach a more equitable footing.

Post- War Reconstruction

‘Afghanistan has begun an enormous political, economic and social transformation since it was suddenly catapulted onto the world stage just a little over a year ago’
(World Bank, 2004)

The reconstruction of a country so devastated by years of war is a massive task. Only 23 per cent of the population have access to safe water, 12 per cent to adequate sanitation, and just 6 per cent to electricity. Despite increases in agricultural production, an estimated 7 million people remain vulnerable to hunger.

With Afghanistan already the world’s largest opium producer (accounting for 72 per cent of the world’s illicit opium supply), many have fallen back on opium cultivation as a means to survival. Life expectancy at birth in Afghanistan is 55 years, compared to the average of 59 years for low-income countries. Education remains a major problem in post-war Afghanistan, with more than 70 per cent of schools in need of repair.

Education in Afghanistan
To rehabilitate education in Afghanistan, and to ensure that the system is sustainable, three factors are essential:

  • Improving the quality and equity of basic education;
  • Making effective use of resources for education;Cooperation with civil society to achieve social goals through education.

However, the people of Afghanistan are working with a strong sense of urgency to restore peace and prosperity to their country. The new national government has prepared the country’s budget and established a development framework to coordinate reconstruction. There are signs of economic recovery: agricultural production has increased by an estimated 82 per cent since 2001. With international assistance from bilateral and multilateral development agencies, the government has begun to tackle its most pressing problems. The numbers of students and teachers returning to school as a result of the donor-assisted Back-to-School Campaign have far exceeded expectations. Three million students have been enrolled and a further 1.5 million are seeking educational opportunities.

Role of the World Bank

The World Bank has been working with the government of Afghanistan and bilateral and multilateral development agencies to help ensure that Afghanistan is kept on the road to recovery. The Bank has committed US$100 million in grants for development projects. Of this, the Emergency Education Rehabilitation and Development Project has received US$15 million. These funds will help rehabilitate university facilities and primary schools, support the Ministry of Education in developing an education policy, and establish a distance-learning programme. Special emphasis has been placed on increasing access to education for females. This includes encouraging women to teach as well as opening up opportunities for girls to gain access to education facilities.

Kabul Distance Learning Centre

The centre has been established at the site of the Afghanistan Assistance Co-ordinating Authority (AACA). The first video-conference connected experts in Tajikstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the United States to discuss development prospects in Afghanistan. The centre is part of the World Bank’s Global Development Learning Network.

Swedish Committee for Afghanistan

Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA) was established in 1980 as a humanitarian solidarity NGO with the purpose of supporting the Afghan people during the war of national liberation against the Soviet occupation. Assistance began by focusing on health, developing into education and agriculture assistance and eventually into a fully-fledged development programme.

SCA’s principles for development include:

  • Neutrality and peace-building – ensures that all families have equal access to food, health and education services;
  • Poverty reduction – SCA support programmes reach the most deprived groups of the most deprived communities in Afghanistan;
  • Human rights and gender considerations – observing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, SCA service are open to all individuals regardless of sex and political affiliation;
  • Sustainability – community participation ensures that SCA initiatives become the responsibility of local groups, thereby ensuring that impacts continue to be felt;
  • Quality focus – emphasis is upon quality rather than quantity to ensure that maximum benefits are derived from project areas.

SCA Education Programme

Primary education
SCA is one of the largest providers of primary education in rural Afghanistan, providing support to almost 500 schools. However, the organisation still reaches only a small fraction of Afghan children of school age.

© Peter Crawford; ITDG Image Gallery
© Peter Crawford; ITDG Image Gallery

When the new school year started in March 2002, SCA received funds to incorporate 20,000 more children than in previous years. However, in the eastern region 11,000 new school children (of which 51 per cent were girls) enrolled, while in the south 28,000 students (22 per cent girls) enrolled. Without knowing the numbers for the north, it can be seen that the number of new students increased by some 50-70,000.

SCA is striving for quality improvement: quality in teaching with regard to school material, teaching methods, monitoring, etc. The aim is ultimately an improved outcome of learning. However, the present situation with large influxes of new pupils and a lack of teachers (resulting in over-large classes) tends to affect the quality.

Secondary education
As the country is in great need of educated people, SCA has started a pilot project to support 18 secondary schools. Furthermore, schools supported by the Swedish governmental aid agency, Sida, have been supplied, through SCA, with textbooks and teachers’ instructions.

Teacher training
During the last 20 years, hardly anyone has graduated from teacher training institutions in Afghanistan. Consequently, most teachers are non-professionals. SCA is providing teachers with two months of training in training centres and two to three weeks of on-site training. SCA has also carried out a two-year distance-course for the school consultants. For the training of female teachers, a training centre was opened in Peshawar, Pakistan, since women did not have access to schools during the Taliban era. With the changing political climate, centres are opening in Afghanistan.

Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL) in Mir Bacha Kot

The AIL provides education at all levels of learning and education: training on human rights and leadership skills, income generating skills and professional training to the Mir Bacha Kot area, north of Kabul. During 2003, AIL opened three Women’s Learning Centres (WLC) and a girls’ school. The number of students attending classes at the WLC more than quadrupled during the first half of 2003. The students participate in a variety of classes, including 150 women learning basic literacy and 186 studying advanced literacy skills. They also participate in income-generating skills-building courses that will enable them to help their families financially.

In addition, the community in Mir Bacha Kot requested a girls’ school. By August 2003, 90 girls were studying at Mir Bacha Kot girls’ school and plans are underway to build a second school. Two teacher-training seminars are offered in Mir Bacha Kot and Kalakan, a neighbouring village. Female trainers conduct the seminars. Participation in the seminars was also open to all, regardless of gender. Usually, there is a curtain dividing the men from the women, but in this case the curtain was removed. Female teachers were also offered seven workshops as well as regular in-service training.

Funding the Future

The coordination of organisations such as the World Bank and SCA is facilitating a new way forward for reconstruction in Afghanistan. The education system is being rebuilt in a more open and equitable form than before. Where women were restricted under the Taliban, they are now actively encouraged to participate in learning and teaching.

‘Before, it was not possible for women to work. When I graduate from the training, I will be able to get a job as a teacher…this is something I have always dreamed of.’
(Trainee Teacher)

The more inclusive approach to teaching and learning is dedicated to building an education system based upon values such as human rights and gender equality. This will help Afghanistan and its people emerge from the recent conflict and life under an oppressive regime with a renewed vigour and fresh hope for its future.

‘Education is the single most important thing to move Afghanistan forward – there is a great need for schools to reach as many of the current generation of children as possible – especially girls and women.’


ITDG would like to thank of the World Bank for providing information and helping in this case study.

The case study draws on articles written by the World Bank and the UN.

Further Information


Samady, S. R. (2001). Education and Afghan Society in the Twentieth Century. Paris: UNESCO.

Relevant Organisations

Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) www.international.gc.ca/development-developpement/

World Bank www.worldbank.org


ITDG Technical Briefs answers.practicalaction.org