About Education in Afghanistan


Afghanistan has among the lowest literacy rates in the world and enormous challenges facing the education sector, which impact greatly on its broader development objectives. The Taliban regime denied women and girls the human right to education for over five years, in the vast majority of the country. This situation further exacerbated an already dire situation, where little education infrastructure existed, there was a shortage of trained teachers and educated people after years of war,  and poverty was endemic. Today, many of these challenges still exist but there have been vast improvements. Most significantly, girls are back in school and the numbers have steadily risen. The international community is working with the Afghan Government to build more schools and bring reforms to the education system, slowly but surely. Yet despite the impressive metrics, the quality of education remains the biggest challenge. Schools lack proper facilities, from safe drinking water and lavatories to school libraries and science labs. Many pupils still learn without textbooks, and most are taught by teachers with no post-secondary education, during a school day of only around three hours. Some areas lack girls’ schools entirely and insecurity -- including deliberate attacks by insurgents on schools, teachers and students -- has negatively impacted girls’ access to education in particular. Canada, and the Canadian public, need to stand behind a long term commitment to helping the Afghan education sector get back on its feet. This is the most powerful possible antidote to conflict, and the greatest investment we can make in Afghanistan’s stability, peacebuilding, development and poverty alleviation.

A Snapshot of Education in Afghanistan


  • The Government of Afghanistan estimates the national adult literacy rate as 34%, including 18% for women and 50% for men, with great disparities between urban and rural areas: 63% of men are illiterate and up to 90% of women (2012).
  • It is estimated that 1 in 5 young women (age 15-24) is literate, according to the AMICS 2010/11 from the Government of Afghanistan and UNICEF.
  • In Afghanistan, literacy is strongly correlated to economic status. In the wealthiest households, 50% of women aged 15-24 years of age are literate, while in the poorest households, 5% of women are literate.

School Attendance

  • Nationally, net primary school attendance is estimated at 55% and secondary school attendance is 32% (AMICS 2010/11)
  • The secondary school net attendance rate (NAR) for girls, 21%, is more than two times lower than that of boys, which is 43% (AMICS 2010/11)
  • The ratio of girls to boys attending primary and secondary education is known as the Gender Parity Index (GPI). In Afghanistan, the gender parity for primary school is 0.74, indicating a difference in the primary school attendance between girls and boys, with 74 girls attending primary school for every 100 boys. The indicator drops significantly by the secondary level, to 0.49 (AMICS 2010/11)

There are numerous reasons why families choose not to send their children to school. These reasons vary significantly by rural/urban divide, by province, and by sex of the pupil. For instance, in rural areas, distance and access is the main reason cited, while in urban areas, cultural reasons are more often cited for not sending children to school, particularly for girls, and especially for girls in older age groups.

Teaching Force

  • Women make up only 31% of the teaching force, varying from approximately 75% in Kabul City to only 1% in Paktika
  • In nine provinces, the percentage of women teachers is 10% or less (MoE, 2013)
  • The number of teachers has grown ninefold from 20,700 to 158,000 in 2008 (UNAMA), to over 186,000 in 2013
  • Many districts do not have a single qualified female teacher
  • 90% of qualified female teachers are located in the nine major urban centers (Kabul, Herat, Nangrahar, Mazar, Badakhshan, Takhar, Baghlan, Jozjan and Faryab)
  • It is estimated that 68% of teachers lack the minimum required qualification of grade 14 graduation (high school plus two years post-secondary)

Schools & Security

The education system, especially girls’ education, has been a primary target of the insurgents. The Taliban and proxies have burned down schools or attacked them with grenades, mines or rockets, murdered teachers, and attacked students. Threats to teachers, school administrative staff, students and their parents have occurred in insecure areas, often through ‘night letters’. Schools have also been looted by insurgents.

  • For instance, there were over 1,000 reported attacks on education between 2009-2012, and likely more which were unreported.
  • In 2013, over 73 incidents of attacks on schools resulted in the deaths of at least 11 children and 13 teachers
  • Hundreds of schools have closed due to security concerns; however, communities work hard to re-open schools as security permits.
  • The Taliban’s war on education and the resulting insecurity serve as a major impediment to teaching and learning in the country.

On our main website, we have five fact sheets on education in Afghanistan. Please click here to access the fact sheets on The Teacher Shortfall, The Missing Textbooks, A War on Education: Security and Schools, School Enrollment in Afghanistan, and Building Schools: Meeting Education Infrastructure Needs in Afghanistan.

Organizations Working on Basic Education in Afghanistan

Policy Documents

Other Resources