UNAMA fact sheet: Education and vocational training

Originally published
Twenty-three years of war have led to an almost total destruction of the Afghan national infrastructure, including the education system. According to available statistics there are approximately 4.5 million children eligible for school enrolment. Nevertheless, while over three million have been absorbed into schools in 2002, another 1.5 million still have no educational opportunities. Also, of those who attend classes, a majority of some two million studies in substandard facilities - often in the open air or in tents with little or no furniture or learning materials. Moreover, while some 65,000 teachers are currently in service, the Education Ministry estimates that they need at least 28,000 more. Most teachers do not have qualifications beyond grade 12 and are paid low salaries - about US$43 per month. There is no unified national curriculum as yet. According to estimates, a total of 27 million textbooks are needed for the current student population, and only 11.5 million are in print.
Progress so far...

As part of the overall efforts to ensure that all international action addresses Afghan defined priorities, an Education program group was established. This was led by the Ministries of Education, Higher Education as well as Labour and Social Welfare and supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and NGOs including the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. Main actions in the Education sector in 2002 have included:

  • Launch of a back-to-school campaign, which aimed to provide, by 23 March 2002, basic educational supplies (student kits, teacher kits, blackboards, etc.) to 1.78 million children and 70,000 teachers (27% of which are women) at 4,500 schools. In fact nearly twice (three million) the expected number of children returned to schools and related supplies subsequently provided;

  • Distribution of over 8 million textbooks along with other teaching materials;

  • Helping home-based and community schools to remain open during the winter through the provision of "school-in-a-box" and other kits from which some 32,000 children have benefited;

  • Orientation to over 40,000 teachers in the use of new teaching materials;

  • Establishment of an Education Logistics Centre to supply the needs of 1.2 million children in schools across the country - 300 provincial and district level warehouses have been rehabilitated as part of this scheme;

  • Providing 8,500 tents to ensure additional learning spaces;

  • Ongoing rebuilding of 500 damaged schools and the provision of water and sanitation facilities to 1,000 others. Rehabilitation is complete in 102 schools, with a similar number to follow shortly;

  • Rehabilitation of the Ariana Women's Vocational Centre along with the provision of material and equipment to support several hundred new enrolments:

  • Support to the University of Kabul which resulted in university entrance examinations for 20,000 students, and the establishment of campus Internet facilities;

  • A Food for Education programme which has provided on-site and take-home rations for 150,000 schoolchildren, with a special emphasis on encouraging parents to send their girls to school;

  • Setting up of information centres for returned refugees and displaced persons, to raise awareness on the importance of education.
Plans for 2003...

The plans for 2003 aim to meet the most urgent requirements in the education sector: institutional support; curriculum reform; school reconstruction; teacher education; provision of learning materials and educational supplies; literacy; vocational education for vulnerable groups and; higher education. The Afghan National Budget earmarks considerable funding for education. A portion of which is addressed through the Transitional Assistance Programme for Afghanistan (TAPA).

As articulated in the vision of the MoE, among the country's most urgent needs are school reconstruction and rehabilitation. Of the current total of some 5,000 schools, over half are in urgent need of repair. Estimates say that another 2,500 school buildings are needed to accommodate the current school population of three million. UNICEF and the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) will implement a school reconstruction programme that is expected to make a significant contribution towards meeting this need in 2003. In addition the Administration has proposed the establishment of a trust fund to accelerate the building of schools and clinics.

In order to increase school enrolment and promote the nutritional welfare of students, WFP, in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, will continue to support a food for education project targeting over one million children, especially girls.

To meet the estimated shortfall of almost 30,000 teachers, recruitment and training will be highly prioritized in Afghanistan's education strategy with a particular focus on in-service training for primary teachers. Fifteen teacher training colleges will be upgraded which, when fully functional, will be able to train 2,500 new teachers every year and provide on-the-job training to many more. Accelerated teacher training programmes will also be supported over the winter months.

Under the leadership of the MoE, UNESCO, UNICEF and USAID are focusing their support to the Ministry of Education on curriculum development, training for curriculum specialists, and the revision of core textbooks for primary, secondary and tertiary levels. It is expected that 15 million textbooks will be printed during the 2003 school year.

A comprehensive review of the situation of women in education will be undertaken, and suitable legislation developed to promote the right of women to education complemented by curriculum reform. Child-care facilities and social security are needed for working women and low-income families. Awareness campaigns on gender issues will also continue.

Emphasis will also be given to vocational education and skills development, so as to reintegrate thousands of ex-combatants and unemployed youth into the mainstream economy and make them productive members of society. Vocational training centres need to be rehabilitated, and relevant training as well as education provided in economically productive areas.

The government places great priority on early childhood development (ECD). The UN will assist by providing ECD centres and staff training. UNICEF and Save the Children/US, working with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, are also expected to provide capacity building in social work and psychosocial support for children and families. Educational opportunities will also be provided to adults, particularly women, to address the high illiteracy rates.

Capacity building is a core element of all activities planned for 2003. It addresses institutional reform for the Ministry of Education; its organization and management and; the upgrading of its staff through on-the-job training and study visits as well as the secondment of policy and technical advisors. It also envisages creating links with institutions in other countries.

All UN programmes lend support to the Afghan transition process and to the lead role played by the Afghan Administration. In addition to UNAMA, there are some 16 UN agencies in Afghanistan working with their Afghan Government counterparts and with national and international NGO partners. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan heads UNAMA and has overall responsibility for UN activities in the country.