Afghanistan – UNESCO highlights key challenges for Education, Science and Culture in the country

Afghanistan stands at a turning point in history. It is critical for the country, and for the entire region, that progress made over the last two decades, in terms of human rights, education and international standards remains in place.

Since 2002, UNESCO and its Afghan and international partners have carried out several nation-wide programs to reform the education system, to protect cultural heritage, to increase scientific capacity, and to ensure the safety of journalists. These initiatives helped advance Afghanistan’s progress towards meaningful development.

Afghanistan has made the following gains:

  • A major increase in literacy rate, from 34% (2002) to 43% (2020)
  • Beginning in 2006 with the support of partners including Sweden, Japan, Norway, Denmark, UN agencies and civil society organizations throughout the country, UNESCO led the largest literacy program in Afghan history, reaching 1.242.000 learners, including 800.000 women and girls. 45.000 police officers have also been reached and trained through literacy programs.
    F- rom 2002 onwards UNESCO supported the government in the development of a nation-wide education revamp, encompassing all National Strategies for Education, the first-ever National Institute for Educational Planning, a global Education sector analysis, a General Education Curriculum reform (reaching over 1 million learners), and a strategic plan for higher education.
  • UNESCO built capacity in Afghanistan: thousands of Afghan officials were trained: In the Education sector: we trained 741 planning officers from all 34 provinces.
    And in the Culture sector we trained several museum curators and professionals, as well as culture specialists capable of conducting inventories and monitoring heritage sites.
  • Large-scale safeguarding operations were conducted for the preservation of the remains of the Bamiyan Valley, the Minaret of Jam and other iconic monuments that must be preserved as symbols of Afghan identity and national cohesion.
  • Several cultural initiatives have been taken to revitalize Afghanistan’s cultural fabric and creativity, notably through the launch of the Bamiyan Cultural Center, an exhibition and training space, and through the photographic competitions which have helped give birth to the Kabul Photographic Biennale in 2017.
  • Since 2018, the Physics Without Frontiers (PWF) programme run by UNESCO’s Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics ICTP has been working with Kabul University to help faculty develop curricula in physics, including at undergraduate level. Some 400 Afghan students travelled to Kabul University from across the country to attend intensive Physics courses at Kabul University.
  • Afghanistan is now home to one of the most dynamic media landscapes in the region, with 1,879 active media outlets, 203 TV channels, 349 radio stations, and 1,327 print outlets.
  • In 2020, there were 1,741 women media workers in Afghanistan, including 1,139 women journalists

These achievements all show that today Afghan society is very different from 20 years ago. The country has made huge strides, but they must be preserved or the country’s development will unravel.

Many challenges lie ahead for Afghanistan:

  • 12 million Youth and adults (15+) in Afghanistan still lack basic literacy skills
  • 81 journalists were killed between 2006 and 2021, including 7 as of August 2021
  • From September 2020 - February 2021, almost one in five women journalists left the profession, due to ongoing violence and threats.

UNESCO is committed to step up its support to the Afghan people. Recalling what has been achieved over the past two decades, UNESCO wishes to remind the international community what is at stake in its fields of competence, to serve as a benchmark for the future.

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UNESCO is monitoring the evolving situation in Afghanistan with particular attention to issues concerning the universal right to education, freedom of expression and heritage. For further details, please read our statements here:

UNESCO calls for respect of freedom of expression and safety of journalists in Afghanistan Afghanistan - UNESCO calls for the protection of cultural heritage in its diversity UNESCO Director General calls for unhindered right to education in Afghanistan For more information, please contact UNESCO Press Service: Clare O’Hagan