Seven Million Afghan Children Missing an Education, Warns Oxfam Ahead of NATO Summit on Afghanistan

By Oxfam

More than half of all Afghan children still do not go to school, despite a fivefold increase in enrollment since 2001, according to a new report published today by international relief and development agency Oxfam.

The report was released a day ahead of a NATO summit in Latvia to review progress in Afghanistan.

Girls are particularly losing out, with just one in five girls in primary education and one in 20 attending secondary school.

The report, entitled “Free, Quality Education for Every Afghan Child,” says that aid from rich countries is not being delivered, meaning millions of children are being denied an education.

Seven million Afghan children are currently out of school, while five million children attend school - up from 3.1 million in 2003 and around 1 million in 2001,when the Taliban were in power.

Many of those lucky enough to be in school are being taught by untrained teachers: a survey in northern Afghanistan revealed only five percent of primary school teachers could pass the exams that their pupils must take.

“Educating Afghanistan’s children is crucial in improving their lives and in the rebuilding and development of the country. But poverty, crippling fees, and huge distances to the nearest schools prevent parents from sending their children to school. Those children who are lucky enough to be in school must endure untrained teachers, inadequate school buildings, and poor textbooks. If Afghanistan is to meet its ambitious aims for primary and secondary education, there must be a dramatic increase in aid to the government from rich countries,” says Grace Ommer, head of Oxfam Great Britain in Afghanistan.

Oxfam’s report shows that extra investment in school buildings is desperately needed. More than half of pupils do not go to school because there is no school nearby. More than half of Afghanistan’s schools need major repairs, the majority are without clean drinking water or toilet facilities, and two million children study in tents or the open air. Oxfam calls on the international community to invest US$563 million to rebuild 7,800 schools across the country. Rich countries are not providing nearly enough aid to Afghanistan, despite their many promises. So far they contribute only $126 million a year.

Oxfam estimates Afghanistan needs nearly 53,000 trained primary school teachers immediately and a further 64,000 teachers in the next five years. There is also a distinct shortage of female teachers, as currently less than three in 10 teachers are female.

Recruiting these new teachers will be difficult given the low level of morale among Afghanistan’s existing teachers. Their pay is very poor: in Daikundi province in central Afghanistan, most teachers are only paid US$38 per month, and many teachers have to pay a bribe before they are given their salaries.

There are also up to 20,000 “ghost teachers” who collect their salaries but don’t go to work, or who collect more than one salary. Oxfam is calling for better budgeting systems, more consultation, and the creation of a national database of teachers to stamp out corruption in the education system.

Schools are supposed to be free, but in some areas up to 85 percent of schools charge fees. The average fee per student is $6 per year; the average Afghan income is only $293 per year.

To ensure that the Afghan government meets its Millennium Development Goals, Oxfam is calling for:

  • Rich countries to invest US$563 million in school rebuilding and $210 million in printing and distributing text books over the next five years.
  • The abolition of all school fees. Uniforms, books, and transport costs need to be subsidized as far as possible.
  • Training more than 116,000 teachers in the next five years. Half of these should be female.
  • Schools to provide a free midday snack for all pupils.
  • The government of Afghanistan to work with labor unions to make budgeting and procedural reforms which will reduce waste and corruption, improve the planning process, and ensure all schools across Afghanistan are equitably funded.
  • Donors, including USAID and DfID, must fund education through the Afghan Ministry of Education to ensure better coordination.
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