An extremist curriculum: Since 2001, the curriculum has been changed from extremist Islamic teachings to one relatively better with new books and better training. Yet, there still remains no standard curriculum for secondary school textbooks and high school textbooks remain woefully inadequate in number and content.

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“Educating women and girls and women’s empowerment in our community is my dream,” says Beheshta, a 20-year-old Afghan girl who recently completed classes offered by the UN Women-supported Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) Centre in Parwan Province, northeastern Afghanistan.

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Violence: Afghanistan is one of the worst affected countries by violence against schools as of 2008. Violence against students prevented close to five million Afghan children from attending school in 2010. Afghanistan had 439 teachers, educational staff and students killed in 2006-2009; one of the highest rates in the world.

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Attacks by insurgents who oppose women’s education lead to regular closures of girls’ schools.[3] Moreover, 50 per cent of schools do not have buildings and other necessities, and a dearth of textbooks, teaching materials and equipped laboratories, along with the large number of school closures or relocations directly affects the quality of education.[4]

Although interventions of international institutions have helped Afghanistan to some extent, it is still questionable whether international aid will bring about sustainable change in Afghanistan. Likewise, the long-term effects of whether the existence of the international institutions will help Afghanistan break the vicious cycle of its dependency on foreign aid are still questionable.

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While Beheshta’s story and the barriers in accessing primary and higher education is a familiar one in Afghanistan, some progress is evident. The country became Party to the Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the Women’s Bill of Rights, on 5 March 2003 and Afghanistan is currently preparing for the CEDAW Committee’s review of its first-ever periodic report on 10 July 2013.

Student/teacher ratios were also based on estimates. In schools operated by the provincial directorates, estimates were that class sizes ranged from 13 to 104 students, with an average of 50 students per teacher. In schools operated by humanitarian relief agencies, class sizes ranged from 12 to 51 students, with an average of 30 students per teacher.

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Education is often not an option for many women and girls in Afghanistan. According to Government figures, only 26 per cent of Afghanistan’s population is literate, and among women the rate is only 12 per cent.[1] Among school age children, 38 per cent (4.2 million in real numbers) do not have access to schools, most of which are girls.[2]

Education International is the voice of teachers and other education employees across the globe. A global federation of about 400 unions in more than 170 countries and territories, it represents 30 million teachers and other employees in education from early childhood to university.

“It seemed to me like a fairy tale that I would get a job and earn money for my family while supporting women and girls as a whole,” she says proudly.

[1] Combined initial and second periodic reports of Afghanistan to the CEDAW Committee (p. 49)

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The Afghan Government was supported by UN Women in the process of drafting the report.

Infrastructure: As of 2012, the number of educational facilities is inadequate. As a result, around 4,500 schools are currently being built and, according to a 2012 government report, only 40 per cent of schools are currently conducted in permanent buildings. The remaining 60 per cent held classes in UNICEF shelters or were "desert schools" with students and teachers gathering in the desert near a village.

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Opened in 2011, the key objective of the UN-Women-sponsored Women’s ICT Centre in Parwan is to enable women’s economic participation through training in the English language and computer skills. The Centre also provides job placement support for graduates in private schools, with NGOs, municipalities or the Provincial Department of Women’s Affairs.

Every year, more than 100,000 secondary school graduates write the kankor, but due to insufficient spaces and limited capacity, only about half of those students find a spot at the government universities and colleges. Those who fail either go to private institutions, which are very expensive and out of reach for most Afghan families, or try to pass the entrance exam again.

Meanwhile, speaking about the long journey towards women and girl’s education, Beheshta says: “I am aware that it takes a long time but I’m hopeful to see this happen and be part of this valued process.”

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But with international forces scheduled to leave the country soon, there is a battle that needs to remain: the fight for the rights of all citizens to receive quality education on all levels. In simple terms, the international donor community must prioritize support for education in Afghanistan. If that fails to happen the consequences will be dire. As an esteemed IIE-SRF scholar writes below, "Afghans remain hungry for learning and eager to improve themselves through higher education."

Beheshta successfully completed the course, along with about 80 other girls, and is currently teaching English to new students and members of her own community, in the same ICT Centre where she studied.

Teacher's credentials: In 2012, the supply of students far exceeded the amount of employed qualified teachers. According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Education, 80 per cent of the country’s 165,000 teachers have not achieved the equivalent of a high school education or did not complete their post-secondary school studies.

After graduating from high school, Beheshta wanted to pursue a higher education in a government university, but she did not pass the kankor, or entrance exam.

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Beheshta’s parents were not able to pay for her education in a private institute, so, when she had the opportunity to join the English language class at the ICT Centre she saw it as a second chance.

On 1 May 2012, goals were met by the Ministry of Higher Education with the aid of academics from different Afghan universities and financial assistance from the DAAD (the German Academic Exchange Service in Bonn) to provide standard text books to the students of all medical faculties of the country.

Educational Standards In Afghanistan

On 9 July 2012, students and teachers in Afghanistan's southern Nuristan province protested against the Taliban's pressure for school closures, attending classes despite death threats from the regime.

A scholar from Afghanistan who is on the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF) fellowship sent the Institute the following piece about education in his country. For the last 60 years, it has been a see-saw ride for higher education in Afghanistan. However, the data proves that the news is not all bad. In fact, educational opportunities have increased, especially for girls and women.

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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.com » Global Education Reference » Afghanistan - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Administration, Finance, Educational Research - SECONDARY EDUCATION, HIGHER EDUCATION

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Education against all odds: Personal accounts of Afghan women pursuing education after the collapse of the Taliban regime.

Women’s Education: Afghan girls are theoretically free to attend school; however, that freedom is hindered by vicious militant attacks, a lack of adequate facilities and teachers, and even parents' reluctance to break from a tradition that says "girls belong at home". Read more about the difficulties young women face in an attempt to pursue education here.