Afghanistan: Low literacy rates static for 20 years

ISLAMABAD, 7 June (IRIN) - Literacy rates are expected to remain at extremely low levels as millions of children continue to be deprived of education in Afghanistan, according to international agency Save The Children (SCF).
Helen Kirby, regional education officer for SCF, told participants at a conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, on Wednesday that recent statistics suggested that literacy rates had not changed markedly in the last 20 years. SCF estimated that only 27 percent of Afghan men and 5.6 percent of women were literate. Although Kirby added that the data was unreliable, the results were similar to a 1980 survey, which found that 89 percent of the population to be uneducated.

Of the estimated four to five million Afghan children of school age, the number attending formal schooling was "shockingly low", said Kirby. Recent statistics showed enrolment levels of eight percent for girls and 22 percent for boys.

The number of children who completed schooling is also very low. Kirby said it was common for boys to drop out of class to earn money, and for girls to leave school and stay at home. Of those enrolled, SCF estimated that 44 percent of boys reached the equivalent of grade six, while half that number of girls made the same grade.

Regional differences exist in the number of children attending school, with much lower figures for southern Afghanistan. Kirby said Afghan refugees were better educated than the people at home. On average, 50 percent of refugees are enrolled in education, with girls accounting for nearly 40 percent of this figure.

Afghanistan has several different types of schools. The most common are in mosques run by the Taliban authorities, providing purely religious education. Community home-based schools, set up by local groups and agencies, were established initially for girls banned from attending formal schools. But boys were increasingly attending these home-based schools as people recognised the level of education being provided by them was higher, said Kirby.

"The quality of education in local schools is dire," she said, acknowledging that the task facing the authorities was "not to re-establish education, but establish something that never existed".

Conference participants agreed that the drought and fighting had distracted attention away from education. But Kirby stressed that education was a basic human right and should not be ignored. "It's up to us, there are opportunities and we should be taking them," she said.


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