Protecting the gains—education
Uncertainty, a difficult security environment, reduced funds for
development assistance but a continuing and desperate need for such aid means
that donors need to review their programs and to plan ahead carefully. Reports
and evidence before the committee emphasised the need to consolidate and
safeguard the gains made to date. Advice from sources such as the recent review
of the ARTF highlighted the importance of concentrating on sectors that have a
proven track record of success.
In the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Afghanistan
and the Government of Australia, 'Development Framework Agreement', Australia
...deliver assistance in sectors where Australia has particular
expertise, comparative advantage and can have the most impact, with particular
focus on education, agriculture, mining and public financial management to
improve social and economic development for the people of Afghanistan, end
violence against women, and ensure the equality of men and women, boys and
A number of witnesses referred to education as a specific area where, in
their view, Australia could direct its attention most productively. In this
chapter, the committee looks at the work that Australia is doing and intends to
do in this area.
Professor Maley acknowledged that capacity building with the kind of
funds that international donors have is not going to transform Afghanistan, but
it could begin to change the skill set of people who are there on the ground. He
Here the old Chinese saying that 'a single spark can start a
prairie fire' does have a certain amount of resonance. What is encouraging in
Afghanistan is the incredible talent of some of the younger people. The
population statistically gets younger every day—70 per cent of the people are
under the age of 25. The best of the young people in Afghanistan are as bright
as you will find in any country in the world, and they are a generation that
has been exposed to the forces of globalisation in the way that no previous
Afghan generation ever has.
Other witnesses similarly highlighted the central importance of
education as a means of achieving sustainable development. Mr Poulter supported
the notion that education was a key building block for a healthy society.
Mr Leahy agreed with the view that 'the transition from aid-dependency to
self-sufficiency involves people coming through schools, training and these
sorts of things'.
He stressed that this was a long term project—in effect a generational process.
Mr Rahatullah Naeem, Managing Director for the Afghan Development
Association, informed the committee that for long-term sustainability and
development, primary education was very important to raise the literacy rate.
Given the importance of education, he suggested that Australia prioritise its
funding for primary education in the southern region of Afghanistan where
literacy rates were very low.
While most witnesses recognised the importance of primary education, some also
stressed the need to ensure that there were pathways to higher education.
Dr Bizhan noted that, in comparison to other donors to Afghanistan, Australia
had a comparative advantage and expertise in a few areas including education
which could 'yield high return in terms of poverty reduction, economic
stability, and investment creation...' He gave the example of Australian
scholarships for young professionals who could 'make lasting contributions in
Afghanistan in the area of policy formulation and change management'.
The committee has described Afghanistan's poor record on education
starkly demonstrated by the lack of opportunities for girls and women to access
education. Indeed, for some witnesses, education for girls should be a
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission noted that girls
have very limited educational opportunities in most parts of the country,
particularly in rural and insecure areas and encounter many cultural and traditional
constraints in exercising their right to education. Indeed, according to the Commission,
girls constitute about two-thirds of all children who do not go to school and there
are no female students in secondary schools in around 200 districts. The report
also noted that in recent years, in different parts of the country, including
in Kabul, there had been suspicious attacks on girls' schools.
Mr Poulter stated that promoting gender equality in education was
particularly important because cultural norms often do not allow women or girls
to travel far making it difficult for them to access education. He explained
that secondary schools tend to be in urban centres and most of the people live
far away from those. Such populations can only be reached through a community
school but that requires infrastructure and the development of teachers so they
have the skills and level of education necessary to teach others.
Mr Krishnan explained that the problem with education was not that parents were
unwilling to send their girls to school but because of the fear of violence
against their daughters. He stated:
They do not have schools nearby, which means that the girls
have to walk two or three kilometres every day. There are no female teachers in
the schools, particularly in higher schools. The parents will not have the young
laymen teaching their girls...There are no toilets for girls in schools, there
are no drinking water facilities and there is no privacy for those girls in
schools. Parents are afraid to send them—not because they do not want their
daughters to learn—but because the environment does not provide them that scope
to send them without fear.
The number of female teachers is also very low and they face many and
various security problems in unsafe parts of the country—250 districts do not
have a female teacher. Disadvantage which starts with primary education for
girls carries through subsequent levels and is then reflected in the workforce.
Thus women are also underrepresented in the administration—in 2010–11, women
constituted about 20 per cent of government employees and around half of all
ministries and governmental institutions had less than 10 per cent of women as
part of their personnel.
Oxfam also drew attention to interrupted education, a common experience
especially for girls in Afghanistan. It suggested that the Australian
Government improve access to education and training for illiterate rural women
by prioritising funding for accelerated learning programs that address
interrupted schooling and community based education initiatives run by local
organisations. In addition, it was of the view that funding should also go
toward 'establishing rural and remote vocational training centres for training
in basic health, midwifery, paramedics, social work, small business enterprise
and agricultural production'.
Finally Oxfam informed the committee:
Often we have found that female students who have above
average grades in year 12 are denied access to places at universities, in
particular in large cities, because they do not have sufficient accommodation
or sanitation facilities. Finally, these women and girls are getting through
primary education, through secondary education and then are unable to access
places at tertiary institutions to fill much-needed roles as teachers or nurses
or doctors purely because there is not enough accommodation to house them or
they do not have separate sanitation facilities for women.
Oxfam saw value in funding that would go toward improving access to
higher education for rural women with the building of facilities for women at
existing tertiary institutions such as accommodation and sanitation facilities,
and establishing rural and remote technological institutes in nursing, teaching
and information technology.
Education—a priority for Australia
Education is one sector where development assistance has made
substantial improvements in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the delivery of education
services has been a major focus of Australia's aid program in Afghanistan.
For example, Australia's funding through the ARTF education program has helped
to deliver 5,000 classrooms, train in excess of 90,000 teachers and award 3,351
scholarships to female recipients enrolled in teacher training colleges.
Australia also provides assistance through programs such as the Malaysia
Australia Education Project for Afghanistan (MAEPA), which is intended to strengthen
the Afghan education sector. AusAID identified this program as one of the key
development achievements in 2010–11 under which 30 master teacher trainers had
been trained in Malaysia, including 10 women.
This project has now trained 60 master teacher trainers, who in turn have
trained 340 teacher trainers in Afghanistan.
AusAID highlighted the cascading effect of this program:
Following the MAEPA course, the Trainers return to teaching
colleges across Afghanistan to deliver pre-service and in-service training that
improves the quality of Afghan teachers.
Given the success of the model, the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and
Australia agreed to explore opportunities for Afghan recipients of Australian
development scholarships to undertake their studies at Australian institutions
of higher education in Malaysia.
The committee recommends that AusAID should ensure that its support for
the education sector includes an adequate focus on education quality, and
specifically on learning outcomes and teacher training.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to
support the Malaysia Australia Education Project for Afghanistan and to explore
ways to build on its successes. The committee recommends that the Australian
Government give particular attention to achieving a significant quota of women
for the program, which may require additional effort to ensure that young women
are graduating from year 12 and then have the opportunity to take up the offer
of a scholarship.
The committee recommends further that DFAT together with AusAID
encourage, assist and fund the establishment of an alumni organisation designed
to foster and strengthen the people-to-people links between Afghan graduates
from Australian institutions under the various scholarship programs and the
The committee has considered the suspension of the Australian Leadership
Awards Scholarships, which it regards as a very serious setback particularly at
this most critical time of transition when consolidation of such programs
should be a priority.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government ensure that the
Australian Leadership Awards Scholarships for Afghan students, or a suitable
replacement, commence as soon as possible.
In Uruzgan, Australian aid has supported the building of numerous
schools including the highly regarded Trade Training School. The committee has
highlighted the development achievements in Uruzgan during 2010–11 which
included boosting the capacity of the provincial government by providing
literacy, numeracy and administrative training to its officials.
In light of these achievements in education, the task ahead is to consolidate
and protect these gains. Mr Philip informed the committee that:
One of the encouraging aspects about education in Uruzgan is
that even though the province is often described as very conservative—rural and
isolated—it was rare to come across a community that did not wanted its children
to be educated nor schools to be constructed.
The Prime Minister has announced that through the transition two main
projects would continue in Uruzgan. The first was working with Save the
Children, on the four-year program 'Children of Uruzgan' project, which focuses
on the delivery of basic health and education services in the six districts of
Save the Children Australia is working with the Ministry of Education and
Ministry of Public Health, local NGO partners and communities to deliver this
In 2011, AusAID awarded the agency $36 million for the program. Save the
Children, which has been in Afghanistan since 1976 and in Uruzgan for over 15
years, described this program as a flagship partnership with AusAID:
It is one of the most ambitious aid projects ever undertaken
by an Australian NGO.
Building local capacity is one of the program's key goals with the
objective of training 30 community leaders and nearly 2,000 members of health
councils and parents' associations to become advocates for the importance of
health and education in their communities.
It also hopes to train 1,000 teachers, including female teachers, establish 100
early childhood development groups and 125 literacy groups specifically for
Education is not only a sector where notable achievements have been made
but also one of the key building blocks for future development. The committee
supports Australia placing a high priority on education in its Afghan aid
program but would like to see much greater emphasis given to improving school
attendance and the quality of teaching. To achieve higher retention rates and
uninterrupted schooling, the aid program must address the obstacles holding
parents back from sending their children to school, especially girls. It must
also provide a pathway to higher education.
The committee understands that the Australian Government needs to
reconsider carefully how it can support work in insecure areas of the country,
(especially in Uruzgan where Australia has had a presence). As Australian staff
pull back to Kabul, agencies such as AusAID must develop strong partnerships
with trusted NGOs and other organisations, which can absorb significant funding
and where they have strong links with, and support from, local communities. As the
Uruzgan PRT dismantles, the committee underlines the importance of AusAID
ensuring that there is a planned, carefully phased transfer of the
responsibility for delivering services to government ministries or to NGOs on
the ground. The NGOs should have a proven track record in the relevant sector
and have cultivated deep connections with local NGOs, civil society
organisations and, importantly, the local communities.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government expand its
support for girls’ education in Afghanistan.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government support the
Afghan Ministry of Education to disaggregate enrolment figures by gender.
The committee recommends that AusAID increase its support for programs
that aim to increase community participation in the management of schools,
including supporting local governance structures.
The committee recommends that AusAID continue its support for the
'Children of Uruzgan' program providing a clear commitment to a reliable and
secure source of funding post 2014.
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