Afghanistan has made remarkable progress in education over the past two decades. School enrollment increased almost ten-fold from less than a million in 2001 to 9.6 million in 2018, with the establishment and construction of new schools and the deployment of thousands of new teachers.
In addition to these measures, the government, together with support from multiple partners, has increased efforts to improve the quality of education, paying attention to curriculum relevance, teacher education and learning assessment.
However, owing to persistent challenges, including insufficient numbers of female teachers, deepening poverty and debilitating conflict and insecurity, 3.5 million children, most of them girls, are still out of school (UNICEF, 2018), and consistent systemic quality remains elusive.
A new crisis threatens the education system
The COVID-19 pandemic poses one of the biggest threats to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 of quality education for all globally by 2030. This is also true for Afghanistan, as the pandemic and its impact exacerbate an already dire situation owing to the ongoing conflict.
Fully recognizing the potential of schools to contribute to the accelerated spread of COVID 19, the Ministry of Education closed all learning facilities on March 14, 2020 as part of a battery of actions instituted by the Government of Afghanistan.
Education facilities are not realistically expected to reopen before September, and even then, presumably gradually, assuming there is evidence of reduced infection rates and increased capacity for testing and treatment. Ensuring some degree of continuity of teaching and learning for millions of students and the timely and safe reopening of schools require innovative solutions.
Quickly stepping into action to face the pandemic
Accordingly, based on the instructions of His Excellency the President of Afghanistan and mandate of the Ministry of Education, a COVID-19 education response plan was developed to provide strategic direction on the use of existing resources and capacities of the ministry and development partners, and to secure the additional resources needed given the scale of the crisis. GPE contributed US$70,000 to support the plan development.
The plan includes various innovative measures to ensure continuity of education for students of general education, Islamic education and adult literacy. The plan encompasses two phases: first, an immediate emergency phase, and second, a recovery phase in order to allow stakeholders to coordinate and align both short and medium-term efforts.
The Minister of Education has guided the development of the plan and is responsible for overseeing its implementation and coordination within the wider government COVID-19 response efforts. The plan, while government-led, has included consultation with development partners through the Education in Emergency Working Group.