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Education in Afghanistan

Author: Hassina Sherjan

From 2001 to 2021:

After the overthrow of the Taliban, by the United States, in 2001, all the schools reopened

for girls and women came back to their teaching positions. However, the education system

was destroyed.

Despite the massive investment and support from the international community, including

experts from Columbia University and hundreds of advisors for the Ministry, the quality of

education did not improve much from 2002 to 2021. The rote or memorization system of

learning still prevails.

In Aug 2022, the Taliban took over the country again and Afghanistan's education system

is back to where it was in 1996. Girls are banned from attending school after sixth grade,

and universities cannot admit female students. Female teachers are only allowed to teach

girls up to six grades.


Afghanistan's semi-secular education system prior to 1996 went through different phases of

transformation and political manipulation. The system that existed for almost half of a century until the communists took over in 1978 reflected steady and gradual growth both in quantity and quality of education, similar to the trends found in most neighboring countries.   Although the literacy rate in Afghanistan has probably never exceeded twenty percent of the general population at the best of times, many children in urban and, to a lesser extent, rural areasattended public schooling. Apart from traditional village madrassa or religious schools with a heavy concentration on basic religious studies, most of the government-funded primary and secondary schools provided a modern curriculum that included a mixture of subjects from literature to the sciences, and in some cases a foreign language. In the larger cities, there was very little distinction in the programs for boys and girls.   The system was very competitive thus blurring socio-economic considerations.

Foreign assistance from countries such as France, Germany, the United States and Russia

contributed to a higher standard of education and competitiveness between the recipients at the secondary level.  For example, the best and most talented graduates from German or French-funded state-run high schools were sent with scholarships to the respective foreign countries. Although the system at the state level was centralized, each sub-system of education, whether French, German, or American, offered different and, at times, contrasting choices.  The second tier of high school graduates - those with no foreign scholarships - competed for acceptance to local universities or technical schools. Every year, several thousand young men and women were admitted to universities.  The university once again offered the best and brightest opportunity to receive scholarships to study abroad.

But in 1978, a communist coup d’état replaced the old system of education with an ideologically driven curriculum. Like Soviet-style education, indoctrination seeped into all teaching matters and subjects. At the same time, Eastern Bloc scholarships replaced the diversity that existed. In this period, which lasted about 14 years, many professors, teachers, and students fled the country, were drafted into the military, or were purged. Many schools were subsequently destroyed in the fighting and traditional secularism gave way to ideologically driven education in the cities or to a new style of reactionary religious learning in the non-communist areas.  

With the fall of the communist government in 1992, an attempt was made by the new regime to find a balance between the traditional system of education and a new one inspired by religious tendencies.  However, a proxy civil war among various factions vying for power prevented the realization of this goal as many more people fled and more schools were destroyed.

With the emergence of the Taliban in 1996, education received a major blow as all women

teachers were officially prohibited from work – severely affecting boy's education - and girls'

schools and colleges were shut down.

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