Stories of change ǀ January 2021

Afghanistan: Reaching the most vulnerable children, especially girls, through new approaches

Story highlights

  • Since joining GPE in 2011, Afghanistan has received several grants targeting 13 high-need provinces and districts where education challenges are most acute.
  • Accelerated learning centers and community-based education allow children who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to get into formal schooling to learn.
  • Through training female teachers, more girls, who had been mostly shut out of education, are able to enroll in school.
Map of Afghanistan

Twelve-year-old Wasilla is from Kotal Morcha village, Kandahar province, in Afghanistan, where she is a third-grade student in an accelerated learning center.

These centers serve children up to the age of 15 who have missed out on a primary education, providing them with the opportunity to complete grades 1 to 6 within three years in a fast-track education program. The centers are within a safe and reasonable walking distance of their homes (no more than 3 kilometers).

Girls’ education is a key priority for the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Ensuring that girls like Wasilla who live in remote regions of Afghanistan have opportunities to go to school is an important component of GPE’s grants.

On a rainy winter day, Wasilla walks on a muddy and slippery road of Kotal Morcha village to get to class at the accelerated learning center. Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan
On a rainy winter day, Wasilla walks on a muddy and slippery road of Kotal Morcha village to get to class at the accelerated learning center.
Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan

Nothing dampens Wasilla’s determination to go to school! Her fortitude and love of school are an inspiration to other children in her village and her example – she is the top student in her class – is helping motivate peers.

"I would like to become a teacher one day and return to my hometown to enroll girls in school." Wasilla
"I would like to become a teacher one day and return to my hometown to enroll girls in school."
Wasilla
Student

Her father’s support and encouragement have played a big role in her schooling. His decision to relocate the family to a village with schooling options ensured that his youngest daughter could continue her education. When more schooling options are available, families don’t have to uproot themselves to ensure their children can attend school.

"She is a true inspiration to the whole class. I hope all parents will do the same as Wasilla's father: believe in the value of educating girls."
Wasilla's teacher

Reaching children in remote areas

  • Sadiq, a 21-year-old teacher, stands with his students next to the community school where he teaches in Daykundi province, in the central highlands of Afghanistan.
    Credit: UNICEF/Fricker

  • Children attending an accelerated learning center in Ghor, Afghanistan. These centers have been instrumental in helping children catch up on missed schooling. Formal schools are few and far between in Ghor, a very isolated area. Children often have to travel more than 8 kilometers over difficult and sometimes insecure terrain to access schooling.
    Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Zaeem

Since joining GPE in 2011, Afghanistan has received several grants targeting 13 high-need provinces and districts, including the Helmand and Uruzgan provinces, where challenges were most acute. GPE’s support has focused on strengthening community mobilization for education and school governance at the local level, expanding and reinforcing multiple pathways into education, increasing numbers of qualified female teachers in target areas, and streamlining ministry of education policy and administrative systems.

New approaches have helped millions of Afghan children access schooling in remote villages where public education facilities don’t exist. Accelerated learning centers and community-based education have proven highly successful in addressing challenges such as insecurity on the way to and from school and insufficient transportation, as well as cultural barriers, which are the main obstacles to girls’ education.

Accelerated learning centers are structured in a way that allows students to complete the equivalent of two years’ worth of classes in one year, while community-based education offers students the chance to complete grades 1–3.

Community-based education supports girls

Khadija, 13, in class in the accelerated learning center in Bamyan, Afghanistan. Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Sheida
Khadija, 13, in class in the accelerated learning center in Bamyan, Afghanistan.
Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan/2016/Sheida

While primary enrollment in Afghanistan has improved dramatically, education remains elusive for many. Girls are particularly disadvantaged and face a myriad of challenges, such as lack of female teachers, poor or insufficient school sanitation, early marriage, and cultural barriers.

Eleven-year-old Sowaira, who is in grade four, is one of the lucky ones. Funding from USAID and UNICEF enabled the establishment of a community school in her village for internally displaced people and returnees. Born as a refugee in Pakistan, Sowaira lost her father early in life. When she returned home to Afghanistan, her family home was not how she had expected it to be. War had taken its toll, wiping out any opportunity to go to school.

Sowaira and her mother on the way to school and in front of the UNICEF tent. Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan/2020
Sowaira and her mother on the way to school and in front of the UNICEF tent.
Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan/2020

Through community-based education, Sowaira has acquired literacy and numeracy skills and feels that she is on her way to realizing her dreams despite the many odds that were stacked against her.

‘‘I want to become a physician in the future. The only way to end violence in our country is through education.” Sowaira
‘‘I want to become a physician in the future. The only way to end violence in our country is through education.”
Sowaira
Student

Community-based education has been a game changer in reaching children who would not otherwise have access to schooling. Given the success of the initial program, as of the beginning of 2021, GPE grants will finance community-based education classes in hard-to-reach areas. This important initiative will further reinforce access to education in remote areas, including for girls, and help mitigate the security or distance challenges that exist in many parts of the country.

Girls’ education is national priority

A girl raises her hand in class in a community education center established in her village by UNICEF for internally displaced people and returnees. Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan/2020/ Omid Fazel
A girl raises her hand in class in a community education center established in her village by UNICEF for internally displaced people and returnees.
Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan/2020/Omid Fazel

Over 3.7 million children in Afghanistan are out of school, 60% of whom are girls. Deep-rooted traditions and cultural barriers in Afghanistan have long impeded girls from receiving an education, and girls are still expected to help with household duties, which means that attending classes and finding time to study can be challenging.

Girls’ education has been identified as a national priority. Its importance is highlighted in the country’s National Education Sector Strategic Plan (NESP) III 2017–2021 and Girls’ Education Policy, both of which provide a framework for coordinated action to increase girls’ access to school, and retention and completion rates.

Notwithstanding an increase in girls’ enrollment, many provinces continue to have very low numbers of female students, as low as 14% in some areas. The availability of female teachers is also a challenge, with NESP III reporting an average of 33% nationwide, ranging from 74% in some provinces to as low as 1.8%.

In 2019, GPE provided a grant of $100 million to support the Education Quality Reform in Afghanistan (EQRA) program, which aims to increase equitable access to primary and secondary education, particularly for girls, with a focus on selected lagging provinces, and to improve learning conditions generally.

Training female teachers to get more girls to school

The Ministry of Education has been prioritizing recruitment, training and deployment of greater numbers of female teachers to community-based schools in some of the country’s poorest and hardest-to-reach provinces. This has proven a great success, with girls’ enrollment and retention rates in primary school steadily rising. Greater numbers of educated girls are critical to continuing to expand the pool of potential candidates for future female teachers.

Through the Girls Access to Teacher’s Education (GATE) initiative, the Ministry of Education has been prioritizing recruitment, training and deployment of greater numbers of female teachers to community-based schools in some of the country’s poorest and hardest-to-reach provinces.
Through the Girls Access to Teacher’s Education (GATE) initiative, the Ministry of Education has been prioritizing recruitment, training and deployment of greater numbers of female teachers to community-based schools in some of the country’s poorest and hardest-to-reach provinces.
Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan
Mahtab, 45, is the Head Teacher of Malali High School in Tarin Kowt, the Central District of Urozgan Province.
Mahtab, 45, is the Head Teacher of Malali High School in Tarin Kowt, the Central District of Urozgan Province.
Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan
Mahtab enrolled in a two-year course and successfully graduated from the local teacher training college through the Girls Access to Education (GATE) program.
Mahtab enrolled in a two-year course and successfully graduated from the local teacher training college through the Girls Access to Education (GATE) program.
Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan
Mahtab now leads a once male dominated school.
Mahtab now leads a once male dominated school.
Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan
Mahtab in class with her students.
Mahtab in class with her students.
Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan
The numbers of girls attending school has increased due to the presence of female teachers.
The numbers of girls attending school has increased due to the presence of female teachers.
Credit: UNICEF Afghanistan

Tarin Kowt, the central district of Uruzgan province, has the lowest education indicators in Afghanistan and accounts for many out-of-school children (98% girls and 78% boys). The region also faces a severe shortage of female teachers, with only 34% in its teaching force and very few in rural areas.

Mahtab, 45 years old, enrolled for a two-year course and successfully graduated from the local teacher training college through the Girls Access to Education (GATE) program. She is now the head teacher of Malali High School in Tarin Kowt, leading a once male-dominated school.

“The learning environment is more convenient for students and their families,” says Mahtab.
“The learning environment is more convenient for students and their families,”
Mahtab
Teacher

Prioritizing female teacher training has seen Malali High School transition into an all-female teaching staff and has eased safety and security concerns of parents, further strengthening and increasing girls’ enrollment and their retention at the school.

Tangible results for Afghan children

Sustained support from partners like GPE and UNICEF and action by the government are bearing results in Afghanistan: since 2001, the number of children enrolled in general education (grades 1–12) has risen from 0.9 million (almost none of them girls) to 9.2 million (39% girls).

The number of schools has also increased from 3,400 to 16,400, and 5,000 community-based schools and accelerated learning centers have been established in hard-to-reach areas across the country. These efforts have seen schools reach almost 140,000 students (over 71,000 of them girls) across Afghanistan. GPE's direct support has resulted in 20,000 more girls enrolled in school.

Community engagement in schooling as well as school performance have also improved. Target schools have become safer and more conducive to learning, monitoring of education pathways has improved, more schools have been reopened, and the number of female teachers in target areas has grown.

Furthermore, the Ministry of Education and the national education sector have seen advances in institutional capacity, and national aid coordination mechanisms have improved.

GPE results in Afghanistan

Despite the enormous challenges that Afghan children face in receiving quality basic education, they have shown incredible resilience in overcoming the odds to pursue their love of school, and GPE will continue to support them do just that.

This story was developed with support from UNICEF Afghanistan.