The public schools of Afghanistan
In newsletters and other reports, I had claimed that most Kabul high school graduates were illiterate. Maybe they could decipher some words after twelve school years, but they do not understand whole texts. The arithmetic skills did not go beyond the addition and subtraction of single digits in the majority of graduates of high schools. Such findings were based on the experiences of my colleagues and myself. After all, we employ a good 40 employees and around 550 teachers. Discussions with teachers and parents also confirmed the assessments, as well as reports of aid workers working in education or vocational training.
Nevertheless, I was never comfortable when I made such statements about Afghan schools. I could hardly believe it myself: twelve years of school in which nothing - absolutely nothing - is learned. That was also a matter of credibility. People in Europe imagine schools to be schools, namely schools like the one they went to. How can people in Europe take away from me that in Afghanistan you do not learn anything in twelve years of school, when I myself have trouble understanding that, even though I live there? Even German compatriots who fulfill other duties in Afghanistan, such as development workers from the health service or agriculture, soldiers or diplomats, were amazed when I chatted out of the box. Some may have deducted my stories as part of the self-presentation of OFARIN: "Of course, he must make the state schools so bad, so that OFARIN is all the more magnificent."
When the ARTE movie was shot, it was also about showing the difference between OFARIN's schools and state schools. We talked to Afghan school practitioners, such as the head of a junior high school.
All reported that they must adhere to a fixed schedule. It should not be taken into account whether the students understand what is being taught. Repetition of material, which the students obviously did not understand, is forbidden. However, the teacher is usually unable to take the substance prescribed for one year. Over the course of a year, schools are closed on a temporary basis for security, religious or public holidays because it is too hot or too cold. The substance that was not taken at the end of the school year, may not be made up later.
We looked at textbooks: The reader, that helps students learn to read and write their mother tongue. first introduces the letter Alef. This is done by texts in which all other letters are used, although they are still unknown to the students. The Alef is only highlighted by the fact that it is printed in red.
The Arabic script as well as the derived fonts of the Afghan languages Dari and Pashto are written from right to left. In these writings, sometimes within a word after some specific letters a distance has to be kept to the next letter to the left.Thats not the case after all the other letters. The mentioning of this important rule in the classroom is not intended and therefore not allowed.
The math class starts with the students writing the numbers from one to ten with letters and then having to readthose numbers, even though they know almost no letters.
What kind of people responsible for this think of such rules? ? How do they imagine that the understanding and learning of humans works?
Said director responsible for the lower grade reported that each of her beginner classes is attended by 70 or more students. I do not know how much one has to generalize these states. But complaints about overcrowding are often heard. Most school buildings are used in three shifts. Because of the high birth rates, the country does not comply with the construction of sufficient school buildings. In addition, all Afghan schools are in principle high schools with twelve grades. If a new primary school with six grades is opened today, it has become a secondary school in six years. Students attend class by class because they find no employment. They have only the vague hope for a job in the civil service. Prerequisite for entry into the civil service is the attendance of nine, possibly twelve school classes.
One teacher, who had been trained at the time of the Communists, claimed that teacher training had been better in her time. German development workers, who taught at colleges and universities before the war and civil war, also remember that teachers were solidly prepared in the 1970s. Today, teachers are trained only for one subject but have to teach many subjects. Formerly, teacher training could not keep up with the rapid expansion of the school system. The schools recruited most teachers from their own students. Ninth-grade graduates taught in middle school and later in high school. Even today many teachers are not trained. They would be hired on bribes. Often they are illiterate.
Teachers honestly say they can not teach the students under the circumstances. Many often do not teach. The officials of the school administrations have long given up supervising the schools. "It does not help." Becoming the Minister of Education is felt as a humiliation. Defense or foreign minister, thats the job you want. But as Minister of Education, you are installed at the head of an authority that everyone knows does not do anything. How should you change that as a minister? Nobody knows advice. The Minister of Education can only do what all his officials and teachers have long done: give up.
The communists gave up power in 1992. After that began a civil war. Then the Taliban prevailed in most parts of the country. There were hardly any worthwhile school lessons during this time. In 2001, the Taliban were expelled.
What kind of staff was available to rebuild the school system in 2002? There were many war commanders. All had plenty of followers who needed to be cared for. There were administrators who had served under the most questionable regimes. Nobody understood anything about teaching. Only a few bad schools stunted away. It was obvious that Afghanistan could not do "school".
Afghanistan would have needed many capable professionals to build and operate a functioning school system. These specialists should have worked constructively with each other against all Afghan customs. Where should Afghanistan take these professionals from? An official of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) protests against my statement that the Afghan schools have a low performance. The schools have improved a lot in recent years.
In 2001, only one million Afghan children had gone to school and in 2016 it had been nine million. Apart from the fact that this does not say anything about the quality of teaching, apples were compared to pears in the numbers of students. In 2001, the Taliban did not let girls go to school. And of the nine million Afghan children, two million went to school in Iran and Pakistan in 2016, but the same was likely in 2001. Our bona fide steward had fallen for a shrill statement from the then Minister of Education.
Since 2002, the entire Afghan civil service, including the education system, has been funded by the international community. Why is it that foreign countries are paying for the civil service of Afghanistan, but not checking how the Afghan state is doing its job? The international community not only leaves the school system alone with the money it makes available. It also finances the entire administration without telling it that it is an agency that should care about the well-being of the citizens.
Gladly this is explained by the fact that e.g.teaching is an internal affair of Afghanistan. To interfere there would be contrary to the sovereignty of the country. However, the Afghan citizen would have no problems with more temporary foreign interference if he had better administration, a functioning police force, proper hospitals, and schools where children can learn. This respect for sovereignty seems to me to be only a pretext to avoid further costly effort. Because, of course, the education system of Afghanistan can only be made to function properly if there are considerable efforts by foreign personnel. This keeps the schools free from foreign interference. Foreign countries are only involved in marginal areas. They build school buildings and offer teacher training. These usually have no relation to teaching practice and no influence on it. The actual lessons enjoy the protection of sovereignty.
The Ministry of Education understood that no financier wanted to look closely, and that it had to cobble together his education system himself.This led to the unspeakable regulations governing the course of the lesson and the unusable textbooks mentioned above - and the fact that a large part of the youth of Afghanistan is dull for twelve years.
Kabul in May 2018 Peter Schwittek