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Afghan education

April 17, 2012

Fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan consumes most of the country's resources. Rebuilding the educational system is not a political priority.


Professor Abdul Iqrar Wasel is pacing back and forth in front of the first row of students in his seminar. He is lecturing about the rights of government to impose punishments and the rights of the accused. About 50 students are writing down as much as they can. None of them have a laptop or books. The 15 young women in the course are all sitting on the left at the front of the class.

"You have to understand the individual in the social system," explains Professor Wasel. He is the dean of the law and political sciences faculty at the University of Kabul - with more than 10,000 students, the largest university in Afghanistan. Toward the end of the previous Taliban regime, there were fewer than 8,000 students in the entire country.

"It is incredibly important that so many young Afghans are studying in this faculty because they will be the ones, after graduation, working in the justice, foreign and interior ministries," stresses Wasel. "I hope that these young people will rebuild our country and change it, if we can successfully prepare the ground for them."

Two helicopters providing cover to soldiers in the field
The war remains the top priority in AfghanistanImage: AP

Wasel's faculty currently has 1,400 students learning in two groups. There is no other way - for space reasons. Those who study during the day do not have to pay anything. The evening courses for those who work cost about 80 euros ($104) a semester. For most Afghans, this is an enormous sum.

Past versus future

Dunia is one of the lucky ones to have been accepted for one of the highly coveted spots in law school - in the day group.

"This is the only faculty with which we can understand our society and how it works. We learn how other countries function and what rights and obligations they have toward each other. Afghanistan has changed a lot in recent years, but compared to other countries, there has been no breakthrough yet. We are still a backward and underdeveloped nation. I would like to help change that," says Dunia.

Dunia wears tight jeans and a long, black blouse underneath a fashionable blazer. She wears make-up and her eyebrows have been carefully plucked. When she graduates, the 18-year-old wants to work in the foreign ministry - preferably as a diplomat.

An Afghan policeman takes position at the site of an attack in Kabul April 15, 2012
Afghanistan is caught between the past and the presentImage: Reuters

"I would like Afghanistan to be just like any other country in which all the people are educated. More than half of the population here cannot read or write. But if my generation works hard enough, we can change that," she says.

Lack of funding - lots of corruption

The thirst for education is huge in Afghanistan. Some 150,000 high school graduates took part in the most recent university entrance exams, but only 40,000 were accepted; a circumstance that generated a lot of anger and disappointment.

However, most of Afghanistan's 20 state-run and private universities lack qualified lecturers, modern curricula, books, networked computers, seminar rooms and dormitories.

Nearly all students in Afghanistan who wish to study beyond a Bachelor's degree need to go abroad because there are no suitable programs available at home - and that means going to Pakistan, India or Iran.

More than 30 years of war have left their mark. 19-year-old Farid would like to see more money invested directly in higher education.

"The international community needs to ensure more transparency with its financial aid. Foreign countries send so many millions of dollars to Afghanistan, but only a small portion of that reaches the people who need it. Our government is profoundly corrupt. The politicians can misuse the money because it does not flow directly into specific projects. That makes donor transparency all that more important," he says.

Low priority investment

The first 10 years of the international Afghan mission cost Germany roughly 17 billion euros, according to finance experts. During this period, the German government says it spent just 110 million euros on education and cultural projects in Afghanistan. The figures are not much better for other donors.

The academic reconstruction of Afghanistan does not have a high political priority and military expenditures swallow up most of the money. Farid, meanwhile, dreams of a career in Afghanistan in the faculty for law and political science at the University of Kabul:

"Our future has not been decided, but if we are able to strengthen the rule of law, battle corruption and govern our nation better, then we have a chance."

Author: Sandra Petersmann / gb
Editor: Sarah Berning