Despite Improvements, Problems Still Plague Afghanistan’s Schools

Although educational access has improved in Afghanistan in the past decade, woes from teacher shortages to Taliban attacks continue to plague schools around the troubled country. Although children’s hunger for an education is growing, according to those who work to make it happen, the barriers standing in their way are so extreme that they’re unlikely to be broken down for years — or even decades.

NATO troops are all but gone from the country and Western officials, who are also thin on the ground, want to point to expanded educational opportunity for Afghanistan’s children and adults as one of the positive changes brought about by the lengthy military campaign. Yet there is bad news with the good. According to Rod Nordland of The New York Times, dropout rates continue to be high, schools continue to be closed due to armed conflicts, and there’s a very low ceiling on how much education is available to students – especially those in rural areas of the country.

Overcrowding is so bad that nearly all schools operate on split shifts, so students get a half-day, and many of them are on three shifts a day, meaning that those students get only three hours of instruction daily. And many children are not in school. Unicef estimated in 2012 that one in two school-age children did not attend at all.

Further, while there has demonstrably been positive and rapid growth in the public school system, there have also been daunting challenges, particularly a lack of capacity to find or train qualified teachers, print enough textbooks or build enough safe schools.

UNICEF reports that only about 24% of teachers in Afghan classrooms are qualified according to the country’s law. Regulations require that instructors complete a two-year training program after high school graduation prior to being allowed to teach. However, to many who run and teach in the schools, those requirements are nothing but a fantasy. In some places the teacher shortages are so acute that some of the teachers completed fewer grades than the students they’re teaching.

In the eastern province of Khost, bordering Pakistan, Education Ministry documents from Kabul officially list 252,000 students enrolled last year. But in Khost Province’s education department, Kamar Khan Kamran, who works as a recruiter of teachers, said those numbers were wildly inflated. “I think we would hardly be able to enroll 20,000 to 25,000 students this year in the province, though the demand for education is booming rapidly.”

The shortage of teachers is so acute that in many districts the schools are hiring teachers who graduated only from sixth, seventh or eighth grade, Mr. Kamran said, “even though it’s not legal.”