Women’s literacy in Afghanistan is among the lowest in the world – about 14 per cent. However, a change has taken place. Previously, only 3 per cent of girls went to school; now about 36 per cent receive education.
The State Ministry of Education in Afghanistan has produced a national education strategy and is now implementing teacher training, producing textbooks and building schools at a greater rate than previously. But capacity remains low and the ministry is being supported by UNICEF, with aid from Sida.
Sofia Orrebrink, programme officer for Education in Sida’s Afghanistan team at the department for Conflict and post-conflict co-operation, says it is common for there to be 40 pupils or more in one classroom.
“It isn’t unusual for them to sit on the floor or out in the open air,” she says. “Despite this, there is enormous pressure on the school system. One of the requirements is to educate more teachers. School buildings are needed because many of them have been destroyed during the armed conflicts, but other basic infrastructure is also missing like desks, toilets and textbooks.”
Through UNICEF and the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA), Sida is also supporting village schools in far flung areas where there are no schools within a reasonable distance. This increases the possibility for girls to study because many of them are not allowed to travel a long way to school.
It is also important to educate more female teachers because parents are often against allowing girls to be in a class with male teachers.
Through UNICEF, Sida is supporting adult education programmes situated in villages, so older boys and girls can learn to read and write. These pupils have not had the opportunity to study before; some of them were married off at an early age, in other cases the school has been too far away from the village.
“Many of the pupils are just 16 and getting an education strengthens their position within the family and society,” Orrebrink says. “Now, for example, they can get public information, read the Koran and help the children with their homework. The intention is not only for the women to learn how to read and write, but for women to have the opportunity to increase their participation and influence in society.”
Sida is also supporting an investment through UNESCO to include all children in school. The support for UNESCO is intended to contribute to teachers, headmasters and organizations that work within the education sector gaining a greater understanding of the importance of education for everyone, regardless of functional impairments, sex or financial situation. Education for all is a question of human rights and through education, Afghanistan can become a more equal and democratic society.