Prioritising the future of Afghanistan

Marius Brevik|Published 24. Mar 2017
Children who have to flee their homes also lose their schools and classmates. “We must prioritize giving these children an education,” argues NRC’s Head of Programme in Afghanistan, Will Carter.
At Rassouli Mina school in Behsud district in Nangarhar province, Eastern Afghanistan. Photo: NRC/Sandra Calligaro

“We have a proverb that says that one girl is able to educate ten generations. It’s very important, educated women make the difference,” says Mohama Qayoum, an Afghan teacher.

Still, of the more than three million Afghan children out of school, three quarters are girls. Children are dropping out, not only due to traditions and conflicts, but also due to lack of funding and classrooms.

8th grade student Samia in Jalalabad is one of the girls who risked falling behind due to lack of proper facilities.  Her family were living as Afghan refugees in Pakistan, but suddenly felt forced to return to Afghanistan last year. 

She enrolled in a local school, but previously her schedule was unpredictable. Studying in old tents that were not water-resistant caused them to cancel classes for days. Now Samia and her classmates have received much needed equipment, allowing them to continue their education at a proper rate.

“Now I can study and get an education, I will be someone. And in the future, I want to serve my country and support my family,” she says.  

Three main obstacles

Research conducted by UN agencies and NGOs like Save the Children and NRC indicate that there are three main reasons why displaced children are not able to attend school: lack of capacity to take on additional students, lack of required documentation and the families’ lack of ability to cover school-related costs. You can read our position paper here.

Providing their students with sufficient classrooms is a common struggle for many schools in Afghanistan. Schools are already overcrowded, unable to take in additional students who were forcibly displaced. This results in far from ideal alternative solutions.

“Our biggest problem is the building. We do not have any space. We use old tents, but some students need to sit outside. And the tents are not even water-resistant; when it rains we have to cancel classes,” explains Azubillah, principle at the Farmada school.

For people displaced by conflict, lack of proper papers is another major challenge. To be able to enrol their children in school, families are asked to present sufficient documentation. Valid birth certificates and previous school records are often required to be eligible for enrolment. In general, civil documentation (e.g. identity papers) is difficult to obtain for displaced people, who often have been forced to leave their homes in a hurry, without being able to bring their documents and other belongings. More about documentation issues in Afghanistan here.

A third obstacle is poverty. Parents strive to give their children the best life possible, but for many families who have fled their homes, feeding themselves is hard enough, leaving them unable to pay for school related costs such as proper clothing and other items. 

More than education

“Education enables children to differentiate right from wrong. It lights up their minds, and also, finally, they can contribute to the development of the country,” says Masood Ahmad, Education Manager.

Photo: NRC/Sandra Calligaro

Education is more than learning how to write and read. In emergencies, education also provides life-saving and life sustaining physical, psychosocial and cognitive protection for displaced children. It mitigates the impact of forced displacement by offering a sense of normalcy, stability and structure for children faced with a lot of uncertainty.  

“Education must be acknowledged as a humanitarian priority in crises. When children drop out of school, the community does not only risk losing generations of invaluable competence, they also lose a protective environment for their children, and risk losing a future,” says Carter.

“An environment with safe learning spaces can prevent boys from being recruited into armed groups and girls from being forced into child marriages, and gives an opportunity for life-saving information to be provided”, he explains.  

More than 300,000 children and youths were displaced by conflict inside Afghanistan in 2016.  Thanks to Sweden, Norway and the EU, the Norwegian Refugee Council was able to assist 80,000 displaced children in Afghanistan with education last year. Still, more support is needed to get displaced children back to school—it will offer them and their families a better future, and may just save their lives. You can read more about our education work in Afghanistan here.

Photo: NRC/Tiril Skarstein