Afghanistan focuses on extending schools’ reach

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – Despite millions of Afghan children remaining out of education, the country has seen a dramatic increase in school attendance since the fall of the Taliban nearly 16 years ago.

Teacher Khanadin Talash, 58, spent three decades working in state-run schools before transferring to the private sector.

Speaking at the start of the Afghan school year last week, Talash explained how the rapid rise in public school students had created overcrowded classrooms and inadequate teaching, leading many parents to look to the private sector.

“The whole schooling system is a debacle,” he told Anadolu Agency. “Most of the high-school graduates fail the university entrance exams because of incompetence and are left with choices like escaping to Europe illegally, hard labor for less pay or joining the militants.”

After a decade-and-a-half of government and international funding, there are now 17,482 public schools across Afghanistan and 259 registered private schools, according to official figures.

These provide schooling for up to 9.6 million pupils, with a further 1 million expected to have enrolled for the new academic year.

However, according to NGOs, this leaves around 3.7 million children out of education. Hundreds of thousands more are expected to join this number as displaced families return from Pakistan.

Save the Children, a UK-based NGO, recently reported that more than 400,000 children in Afghanistan were expected to drop out of school this year.

According to UNESCO, the UN body responsible for international cooperation on education, there are 42 students to each teacher in Afghanistan.

However, educationalists familiar with the situation in Afghan schools said the ratio is significantly higher.

According to Talash — the headteacher of Bakhtar Aale Lycee in Kabul — class sizes in public schools are commonly up to 70 schoolchildren and teachers are often underqualified.

The school standards are reflected in the numbers attending university.

– Maarif Foundation

Faisal Amin, spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, said up to 300,000 high school graduates were expected to sit university entrance exams.

Only around 70,000 of these students, who are mostly aged around 20, will be successful.

For parents like Omar Amin, a father-of-five who works for a TV station, enrolment in a private school offers a greater chance of success.

“There are so many private schools in Kabul and other cities where good quality education is provided for a decent fee, so why risk the future of the children?” he said.

Many parents do not have the resources to pay for their children’s education and look to the government to provide schooling.

President Ashraf Ghani has called for education reform and improvement and his deputy Sarwar Danish recently declared illiteracy to be the country’s “silent enemy”.

“We have come a long way and have achieved a lot in the education sector following the fall of the Taliban regime but it is true that so many children remain deprived of education,” he said.

To boost education in a country where 67 percent of the population is illiterate, Danish has proposed recruiting the support of local elders and making the process of recruiting teachers more transparent.

“We are determined to lift the literacy level from its current level to over 60 percent by the year 2020,” he said.

Turkey’s Maarif Foundation is among the foreign organizations helping improve education standards.

The foundation recently took charge of 16 schools and national coordinator Mucip Uludag said the schools would provide a future route for Afghan students to study in Turkey.

“We aim to adopt an inclusive policy to allow all Afghan children a chance to seek quality education,” he told Anadolu Agency.

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