History of educational system in Afghanistan

Originally published
The contemporary educational system in Afghanistan was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century by the government, which used it as a means to convince traditionalists, who were in favor of religious schools (madarasas), of the compatibility of Islam with modernization. In 1935, the Afghan government declared education universal, compulsory and free. By the 1960s, considerable attention was paid to extending secular elementary schools, and vocational schools to the rural areas.
Nevertheless, because of the economic and social barriers, contemporary education remained primarily the privilege of upper class urban groups. By the 1960s as the expanding government system required more bureaucrats, ninety percent of all school graduates were employed by the government with the result that the educated were seen by villagers as government officials. Graduates of (Madrassa) sought careers as religious functionaries or judges.

Toward the end of the constitutional period, as the rural population became increasingly aware of the concentration of modern facilities and industries in Kabul and a few other cities, signs of resentment assumed political importance. The experiment in democracy had brought few benefits to most Afghans while economic opportunities and profits from corruption appeared to be monopolized by the elite. Embitterment changed many students and graduates into recruits for radical and protest movements. Marxist critiques of the constitutional experiment quickly appeared and led to the 1973 coup, a prelude to the 1978 Soviet-backed coup and subsequently the1979 Soviet invasion.

In 1978, the Soviet-dominated regime in Afghanistan launched a literacy campaign targeting mainly children and teenagers. From the beginning, the campaign, that was part of the communist political agenda, caused a significant backlash against education, particularly in rural areas, and led to distrust and widespread rejection of educational initiatives undertaken by the government. Afghans residing outside the control of the Kabul government or in refugee camps viewed secular education as a foreign object that contradicted Islamic values.

This perception mellowed over the years as many refugees observed the benefits of education, but the curricula developed for refugee children was highly politicized and filled with war messages.

After ten years of war, the Soviets were defeated and left Afghanistan, but the continuing conflict and individual struggles for power between self-appointed leaders of the Mojahideen faction from 1922-1966 led to the empowerment of the Taliban regime (1996-2001). Moreover, the Taliban's prohibition of schooling for girls and of employment for women as teachers resulted in a dramatic decline in education for girls as well as boys, and created a backlash amongst many sectors with the Afghan society. Afghanistan in 1996 had the highest illiteracy rate in Asia, for both men and women.

Recent events have brought about sweeping changes and daunting challenges in Afghanistan. Years of war have destroyed Afghanistan's educational infrastructure. The educational system is now in shambles, and incapable of meeting the nation's basic educational needs. In addition, almost two generations of Afghans opted for war instead of education. Thus, those who should be most productive today are emotionally and mentally unprepared and highly vulnerable to the temptations of anti-social activities.

Although Afghans need the international communities' assistance to help rebuild Afghanistan, solutions lie in the patient rebuilding of confidence and trust within the Afghan communities.