Non-state provision of non-formal education has been relevant in Afghanistan

By Abdul Hamid Hatsaandh, education researcher and contributor to the regional report on non-state actors in South Asia

Fears that the new regime in Afghanistan will resume its discrimination against girls and women in education and other spheres of social and economic life have unfortunately been confirmed in recent months. Addressing these new facts on the ground will require the mobilization of non-state actors. This makes it relevant to take a look at how non-state actors engaged in education before August 2021.

In this blog post, I discuss two insights from a background paper on Afghanistan provided for the 2022 GEM Regional Report on South Asia about some of the roles non-state actors have played in education.

There are about 6 million children aged 1 to 5 years in Afghanistan eligible for early childhood and pre-primary education. However, only 30,000, or 0.5%, attended early childhood care and education (ECCE) centres, while about 1% attended both ECCE centres and pre-primary education classes (nursery and prep). In addition to such negligible enrolment levels, the rural-urban divide was enormous. For example, in the entire southeast region, which includes the four provinces of Ghazni, Paktya, Paktika and Khost, enrolment was almost zero in 2016. In contrast, about 45% of enrolled children in 2021 were in Kabul.

The Ministry of Education’s plan was for attendance in pre-primary education centres to reached a modest 7.9% by 2020. However, its attempts at providing public pre-primary education – for instance, developing a pre-primary education policy, a national curriculum, teacher training, and a first pilot pre-primary education programme – were limited.

However, it is believed that most Afghan children attend mosques in their early age to receive religious education. Most of these children continue to attend mosques even after they start attending school. For example, in a 2015 study of 819 students aged 6-11, 84% reported that they also attended mosques to get an education – but it also showed that attendance in mosque-based education was associated with higher literacy outcomes. This is significant, especially given that there usually is at least one mosque in each village where the Imam teaches children to learn to read religious texts, a network that could be leveraged.

Credit: UNICEF/ Azizullah Karimi. An old man teaches a child to read at a mosque that serves as a community-based school, in Kamar Kalagh, a village on the outskirts of the north-western city of Herat.

Another non-formal system has existed in technical and vocational education and training (TVET). About 800,000 apprentices in Ostad-Shagerdi were learning skills in small-scale businesses each year, a large number when compared to the only 65,000 students in formal TVET institutions in 2020. In 2019, a pilot programme in 13 provinces funded by GIZ, the German Development Agency, provided practical workshops and theorical training to these apprentices. The National TVET Strategy, developed in 2019, recognized the potential of this non-formal system and envisioned a public-private partnership in which the TVET Authority would identify businesses, list apprentices and provide training in theoretical concepts along with state-recognized certification of completion, while businesses would offer practical skills at the same time.

Both examples show ways that mosques and businesses have historically played a role as non-state actors supporting non-formal education in Afghanistan, two of several examples listed in the 2022 regional report on South Asia, which explores the policy challenges in depth.

The question arising is what role can be carved out of the current context for non-state actors to continue making a contribution to education in Afghanistan at a time of great need and severe financial and political constraints. Some have pointed out the possibility that technology could be deployed to reach out girls and women who are otherwise banned from accessing formal secondary and post-secondary education. Ultimately, non-state actors at home and abroad need to continue their efforts for the bans to be reversed and for education to receive the attention it deserves.

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