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The People of Afghanistan, Education

anti-education, rote memorization, military coup, Jalalabad, mullahs

Two separate systems of education exist in Afghanistan. The older system is a religious one, taught by the mullahs, who conduct schools in the village mosques. They teach the religious precepts of the Qur’an, reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The other system was introduced in Afghanistan’s 1964 constitution and provided for free and compulsory education at all levels, although this was rarely achieved. Prior to the civil war the respected Kabul University (founded in 1932) was a major seat of learning with free tuition. Nine other colleges were established within it from 1938 through 1967, each with assistance from such countries as France, Germany, the United States, Egypt, and the USSR. Before 1961 only men could receive a higher education; that year all faculties were made coeducational. University of Nangarhar (1962) in Jalalabad was established to teach medicine and other disciplines.

Before the 1978 military coup, the public school system was based on Western models. Special emphasis was placed on primary education. Secondary schools existed in Kabul and the larger towns. Five years of primary school and five years of secondary school were expected, although many Afghans could not attend because they lived in areas where there were no schools.

In 1996 the country reported 52 percent of primary school-aged children were enrolled in school; 22 percent of the relevantly aged children attended secondary school. Literacy was estimated to be 58 percent for all Afghans aged 15 and older in 2001, 71 percent for males and 44 percent for females. However, some experts believe these figures are too high because warfare effectively eliminated most education and a generation grew up without any formal schooling. The civil war resulted in the closing or dismantling of most lower, middle, and higher educational facilities in the country. Then the Taliban rulers, many of whom were illiterate and anti-education, suppressed all levels of schooling, and forbade it for girls and women. Only rote memorization of the Qur’an in Arabic, a language most Afghans do not speak or understand, was allowed during the Taliban regime. Opposition groups in a few places in the country tried to maintain some education, but under very difficult circumstances. With the removal of the Taliban from power in late 2001, people in Afghanistan began to establish new plans and procedures for the restoration of education, and perhaps a completely new educational system, nationwide. Schools such as Kaabul University reopened, and student enrollments soared. However, the country is sorely lacking the educational facilities and resources it needs to meet the needs of its population. Several million new textbooks for the newly reopened schools have been printed in the United States by the University of Nebraska at Omaha, which also has been involved in setting up a mobile school system to bring education to rural areas in Afghanistan.

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