The illiteracy rate in Afghanistan is astoundingly high. This makes mentoring the ANA a very challenging task. Most of the individuals that I work with are able to speak and write in two languages – Pashtun and Dari – yet many of the soldiers in the ANA cannot read or write at all. Many times have I seen formal documents signed only by a thumbprint. Although I do not have any official figures on the literacy rate for the ANA, estimates put it at about 50 percent. One can only imagine how difficult it can be to teach a military force that is 50 percent illiterate.
But, the problem is more pervasive that just the ANA. The soldiers that make up the ANA are, of course, Afghan citizens and so they are a reflection of the literacy rate of the rest of the population – with one marked difference. The ANA is comprised of all males. The literacy rates, and education in general, is much better for men than it is for women. Current estimates of literacy among the Afghan population are 50 to 70 percent for males and 20 to 40 percent for females. Although these figures may be surprising, they are much better than 2001 when the Taliban maintained power over Afghanistan. In 1996 the Taliban regime banned education for females, and the madrassa (mosque school) became the main source of primary and secondary education. At that time less than 50 percent of males and 20 percent of females were able to read and write.
Insofar as education is concerned, progress is being made. Today over six million children are enrolled in school – two million of them being female. In 2001 there were only 700, 000 enrolled in the education system – all male. Today, in southern Afghanistan alone, 4000 schools have been created that employ over 9000 teachers. Of those, 4000 are female. Further, programs are also being created to provide the adult population with literacy training as well. For example, in Kandahar literacy courses are provided for over 5600 adults – 5100 of which are female. Also, universities that were once open in Kabul are re-opening their doors and are offering a variety of programs.
These are direct signs of progress being made in Afghanistan in order to make life better for Afghan citizens. But the battle is not yet over. Although schools continue to be built, in some areas many children simply do not attend for fear of reprisal by the Taliban. And some schools in more outlying regions of the country are simply destroyed by the Taliban shortly after construction. As with most things here, it is something that will take time. Reconstruction projects and capacity building are not something that can be accomplished overnight. Nor can it be successful without adequate security to protect both the infrastructure as well as those who can benefit from it. But this is the unfortunate reality – not only is the war being fought on the frontlines, it is also being waged on the civilian population as well. The unfortunate result is that it is claiming the education of those who will one day lead this country.
This will be my last post for a few weeks as I begin my leave this coming week. It is my turn to take a bit of time off and visit some parts of the world that are a little less risky. My next post will be on the 9th of November. I hope you have a good few weeks and I’ll see you next month.