Female teachers help to rebuild Afghanistan's education system

By Mohammad Rafi

KABUL, Afghanistan, 8 June 2007 - During the Taliban era in Afghanistan, many female teachers were barred from working and many girls were not allowed to go to school.

The fall of Taliban in late 2001 was a historic turning point that brought many changes - including UNICEF-supported education initiatives in communities across the country. And with the success of those initiatives has come a growing need for teachers.

"When I started my teaching job, I knew nothing about the profession," says Toorpaikai Roshangar, a second-grade teacher at Lamia-i-Shaheed girls' school in Kabul. Over the past five years, Ms. Roshangar has taken part in five training sessions supported by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education. The sessions have focused on textbook orientation, child development, classroom management skills and child-centered teaching.

"I only had a 12th-grade education with no teaching skills," says Ms. Roshangar. "It was these trainings that provided me with necessary skills and knowledge of teaching methods. Now I enter the classroom with confidence."

Increased demand for education

In 2002, with the opening of new schools and a back-to-school campaign, many children - especially girls - were able to attend classes for the first time in several years. The increase in school enrolment demonstrated a demand for education that was unprecedented in Afghanistan's history.

The education programme started with the objective of getting an estimated 1.5 million children into their classrooms in 2002. By the end of the year that number had swollen to 3 million children, 30 per cent of them girls.

This year, more than 4.5 million Afghan children are attending classes, further straining education resources.

Improving the quality of teachers

Five years ago, only an estimated 15 per cent of teachers in Afghanistan's schools had graduated from teachers' training colleges. Initially, UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education in providing training for 50,000 primary school teachers with a 10-day refresher course on language arts, pedagogy and landmine awareness.

Since then, UNICEF has provided support for teacher training that covers both formal and community-based schools around the country.

UNICEF and its partners are also supporting the Government of Afghanistan in developing a comprehensive teacher-training system in primary education, including strategies for enlarging the pool of female teachers. It has been proven that more female teachers increase the enrolment and attendance of girls in school.

"The drive to improve the quality of teachers is also a step in ensuring that girls continue to return to the classroom, and to reduce the risk of drop-out amongst pupils already enrolled," says UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue.

Future of a generation

To meet the need for more qualified teachers, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF envisage establishing teachers' training colleges in each of the country's 34 provinces. The colleges are part of a major investment in teaching standards, along with development of a new curriculum, teacher accreditation and textbooks for primary school students.

UNICEF has provided support in the form of construction, library furniture, stationery and computer equipment for nine new teachers' training colleges.

In 2007, UNICEF aims to train 30,000 teachers in child-centered and gender-sensitive new curriculum and textbooks. Also planned is a literacy course for some 62,500 women and the training of over 180,000 newly recruited female teachers.

With this focus on training female teachers in Afghanistan and getting girls in school, UNICEF is spearheading the educational future of a whole generation.