Rebuilding education in Afghanistan
By the time the Taliban fell in 2001 only about 900,000 (or 5 per cent) of all school-aged Afghani children were attending school; almost all of them were boys.
“You couldn’t even call what those kids were receiving an education,” Ms Wardak says.
“There was no curriculum and very few learning resources. Our education system hadn’t just been neglected – it had been decimated.”
Having left Afghanistan in her early teens, Ms Wardak was educated in Canada and Sweden. She remained passionate about her home country, and seized the opportunity to return in 2002.
The situation she faced was daunting. There were 20,000 teachers for a country with a population of about 20 million, and only a handful of those were women. The future of the profession looked particularly dim, with only four teacher education colleges hosting a total of 450 students and 50 lecturers – all of whom were men.
Supported by a number of international aid agencies, Ms Wardak and her colleagues in the Ministry of Education’s Teacher Education Department embarked on a highly ambitious development program. They shared some of their impressive results on a recent visit to the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education (MGSE).
“We now have 7.5 million students in schools, about a third of which are girls,” she says.
“The challenge for my department has been not just to supply enough teachers to meet this demand, but to ensure these teachers are competent professionals with access to appropriate resources.”
With the number of students attending school increasing rapidly (from 2001 to 2003 it increased from 900,000 to 3.5 million), Ms Wardak’s department had to introduce emergency measures to supply enough teachers.
“School doors opened for millions of children, including girls, which was just fantastic. But this meant we had to recruit lots of teachers quickly,” Ms Wardak says.
“As a result, we now have large numbers of teachers in our classrooms without the desired level of education.”
The department set up a network of province-based Teacher Training Colleges. Every province has at least one college, with a total of 42 colleges serving the country’s 34 provinces. Within the provinces, 80 district-based satellite colleges provide additional training support, such as the Accelerated Learning Program for teachers whose current qualifications require upgrading.
“This is the first time in Afghanistan’s history when every province has a teacher working there,” she says.
“Last year, we also saw remote provinces like Zabul graduate their first ever batch of female teachers. I’m pleased with our progress, but we still face some huge challenges.”
Among those challenges are the number of unqualified teachers, the security situation forcing school closures in some areas, a lack of infrastructure and a shortage of female teachers. Although 30 per cent of teachers in the system are women, they are almost all based in urban centres. Twenty-five provinces have no female teachers at all.
“In many communities, particularly rural and remote communities, it remains unacceptable for a girl to be taught by a man,” Ms Wardak says.
“In over 200 districts girls can’t get a secondary education, so they remain excluded from participating in the country’s economy. Women count for over half our population and yet their voices remain largely silent. This has to change – attracting more women into teaching will make a big difference.”
The department offers girls in target provinces scholarships to complete secondary school and go to a Teacher Training College. A top up program is also in place to help female teachers upgrade their qualifications, there is a program in place to help women get their teaching diploma and another special program offers women an accelerated course in early childhood education while they complete their secondary education.
Looking to other education systems to guide the next phase of education development, the department’s recent visit to MGSE covered issues around quality assurance, developing a system of effective, research-informed professional development and models for attracting people (particularly women) into teacher education programs in remote areas.
Ms Wardak and her colleagues were particularly interested to learn about the Master of Teaching’s approach to teacher education, which links theory closely to practice and is rated by 90 per cent of graduates as preparing them very well for teaching. They were also interested in learning about the Teach for Australia model of teacher education, which provides Associates with ongoing learning and development as they teach a 0.8 load.
The Afghan Ministry of Education visit to the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education was part of a study tour funded by the Australian Government through AusAID.