I was in Afghanistan recently when I witnessed a 12-year old girl begin her formal learning journey. She is introduced to numbers and letters for the first time. However, I was also left with a feeling of sadness because I thought about what she might have been through as a child.
Children were eager to ask questions and grow in the classrooms that I visited. Children I met displayed remarkable levels of resilience, perseverance, and commitment in a complex, changing environment and uncertain futures. These are critical times for the girls and boys of these communities and the nation as a whole.
There are many worrying trends and challenges that have been emerging alongside the optimism and progress in Afghanistan’s education system. The past 20 years have seen remarkable progress in Afghanistan’s education system. This has earned international praises and changed the lives of millions. These gains must be protected, quality improved, and more children have access. This is important for every child as well as the country’s future.
The number of enrolled children grew from less than 1 million in 2000, with less than 10% of them being girls, to 9.9 million in 2019. Nearly 40% of students were girls in 2019, although there were noticeable differences in gender parity among provinces. However, access to education remains a problem due to cultural practices, inaccessibility, and lack of facilities that have kept 4 million children – 60% of them girls – out of school.
Crisis after crisis
Teachers are now struggling to pay their basic expenses while teaching without any remuneration, as the economy and many public sector sectors are close to collapse. This creates the real danger of an education system that collapses.
The current crisis adds to the problems created by COVID-19 in the past two years. The pandemic caused existing problems in the education system to worsen and led to increased inequalities. This was due to long school closings that resulted in learning losses. Remote learning was not available and there was very little outreach.
Global community, national decision-makers, and sector partners at the national, provincial, and community levels need to increase their support for the sector. A particular focus should be placed on reaching the most marginalized people, particularly girls, and providing comprehensive support that allows them to start or return to their learning journey.
It should begin with a shared commitment to ensure that every child in Afghanistan can learn. As winter approaches and the economic woes worsen, children need to be able to learn and receive support at school. This will give them a sense of safety and security. It is essential to take immediate action to support and plan the reopening schools for boys and girls of all ages across the country. This will help us move forward. To allow all children to return home, it is crucial to support teachers in the school system.
WE and its partners have taken advantage of the increased access to the country and are now going to remote areas and previously unaccessible places to accelerate the programme implementation. It is possible to increase community-based education to allow more children to learn in the country. However, helping children who have attended community-based schools to move into formal schools remains a priority. This is due to the decreasing support for overstretched public schools. Expanding community schooling and supporting learning acceleration is crucial in Afghanistan’s diverse context.
It is important that all children and youth in the country who have worked hard and persevered to learn are heard.
The next step is to strengthen engagement between communities, educators, policymakers, and the global community. It is important that all children and youth in the country, regardless of their ability or background, have a voice. This will allow them to be heard and encourage others to look at what they can do to preserve the sector’s achievements. All stakeholders must share the common goal of supporting every child and helping them learn, especially those who are most marginalized.
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It is hard not to reflect upon the difficulties these children have faced in order to reach their goals when you see a child learning. These incredible achievements are fragile and we must work together to preserve what we have gained. We should not regret this crucial moment in Afghanistan’s past, realizing that we could have done more for children who have overcome so much.