Girls’ enrolment rate in Badakhshan province of Afghanistan is significantly higher than the national average (47% as compared to 40.5%). This feat has been reached despite Badakhshan’s mountainous terrain, long distances for students to commute between home and school and insecurity, which makes access to schools difficult. The enrollment rate reflects the high value communities place on education. “What else do people have here, except for education? We have a few chickens, a little land, but that’s not sufficient to make a living”, explains a community member in Shughnan district.
The relatively high girls’ enrolment rate is also an indication of open-mindedness and progressive thinking, which distinguishes Badakhshan from other parts of the country. Many existing schools were already established in the 1960s, although at that time only teaching boys up to the sixth grade. Highlighting the importance of education, a parent in Shidoj Boys’ High School says “I attended school only up to the sixth grade. There was no high school back then. Now I am a farmer, but I am happy that I am an educated and open-minded (roshanfeker) farmer”.
Most districts in Badakhshan have recently witnessed a significant increase in enrollment of girls. “Ten years ago there was maybe one girl in the whole district who had graduated from high school and passed the government university entrance examination (Kankur). Most girls were married after the 8th grade. Last year, we had over 160 female graduates”, says Abdul Majid Azimi, Head of the District Education Department of Zebak.
Government Education Strategy
Improving the quality and relevance of learning to better prepare children and youth for their future employment with a higher skill and knowledge is the primary desire of the Government of Afghanistan. As stated in the National Education Strategic Plan for Afghanistan (2017-2021) “the priority of the government is to build more schools, improve the quality and relevance of programmes and prepare graduates better for productive work.”
To contribute to the government’s strategy, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) supports the Government School Support Program (GSSP) implemented by the Aga Khan Foundation in 200 government secondary schools in remote rural areas of Badakhshan, Bamyan and Baghlan provinces. Each year, over 180’000 girls and boys benefit from better quality schooling in the 19 targeted districts.
“SDC acknowledges education as a key sector in the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. Despite significant progress made in the past 15 years, there is a lot to be done to improve access to and quality of education, particularly for girls. It is therefore that education remains as one of the top priorities in the Swiss Cooperation Strategy for Afghanistan”, says Silvana Hogg, SDC Director of Cooperation in Afghanistan.
Holistic Approach for School Improvement
The GSSP supports the Ministry of Education to enhance quality of education at secondary schools with an emphasis on science and math subjects. Working closely with over 200 secondary schools as well as provincial and district education departments and communities, the project aims to increase student enrolment, retention and learning.
The GSSP project provides trainings and mentors secondary school teachers to improve the quality of content and delivery of secondary schooling. Shazada Ali, who enjoys his profession as a teacher for the past 25 years in Deshare high school in Shughnan district, says “I have received several on the job trainings which have helped me build my subject knowledge as well as teaching method”.
Teachers learn how to actively engage students in their lessons. Group work and experiments are novelties in many schools and mark a shift away from rote learning.
Providing the required equipment for practical teaching is not always easy. When the GSSP project equipped schools in Badakhshan with libraries and science labs, the materials sometimes had to be transported by donkey to reach remote schools.
School management teams and parent-teacher associations (school shuras) elaborate plans to improve school infrastructure. The GSSP project has so far supported over 308 such small projects, which include drinking water pumps, latrines and boundary walls, with technical knowhow and materials. These improvements are particularly important for girls, for whom a lack of sanitation facilities is often a reason to drop out of school.
The GSSP project is currently in its fourth phase, which started in December 2014 and will run through November 2018.