High Stakes: Girls Education in Afghanistan

Progress in girls’ education, one of the rare Afghan success stories of the last nine years and vital to the long-term development and stability of the country, is under threat, 16 aid agencies including Oxfam and CARE warned today in a new report.

The report High Stakes found that gains in girls’ education are slipping away as a result of poverty, growing insecurity, a lack of trained teachers, neglect of post-primary education and poorly equipped schools. The findings are based on a survey of more than 1,600 girls, parents and teachers in 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

There are now 2.4 million Afghan girls enrolled in school, compared to just 5,000 in 2001 – a 480-fold increase. While the numbers are encouraging, Afghan girls still face many barriers to receiving an education. The quality of education is highly variable, school conditions are often poor and nearly half a million girls who are enrolled do not regularly attend school. The agencies are calling for renewed efforts by the Afghan government and donors to keep girls in school and improve the quality of the education they receive.

“Afghan girls are hungry for an education: nearly two thirds of girls we spoke to said they want to complete university. But the reality is the education system is facing its greatest challenge since 2001. We’re seeing a rollback of some of the recent gains made in getting young, motivated Afghan girls into school. This is an appalling waste of talent and potential,” said Neeti Bhargava, Oxfam’s country programme manager in Afghanistan.

Those interviewed said poverty was the single biggest obstacle to girls’ education and the main factor in causing girls to drop out of school. This was followed closely by early or forced marriage and insecurity. More than 40 per cent of interviewees said girls had to leave school to help support their families or because their families were too poor to pay for necessities such as transport or uniforms.

Those who do remain in school are receiving a poor education because of a lack of trained female teachers, of female-only schools and basic materials. Just 30 per cent of teachers are female and the vast majority work in and around urban areas, with more than a third based in the capital Kabul. In contrast, in the highly insecure Khost province, on the border with Pakistan, just 3 per cent of teachers are female. In neighbouring Paktika, this drops to just 1 per cent.

More than 40 per cent of girls interviewed said their school didn’t have a building resulting in children being taught in the open air or in temporary structures. The report found girls in rural areas are the worst off – just under 10 per cent of girls in Balkh province attended a school with a building while three quarters of those living in Kabul did. Some reported travelling more than three hours each way to the closest school.

The aid agencies warn that the intensifying conflict, which is spreading into previously secure areas in the centre, north and west of the country, is increasingly preventing girls from going to school. More than a third of those interviewed saw insecurity as a major obstacle. Schools, especially girls’ schools, have been targeted leading many parents to keep their daughters at home out of fear for their safety.

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