The Long Road

Insights into the development of the education system in Afghanistan.

Schule bei Askalan

23 Years of war, destruction and millions of refugees have left a desolate training infrastructure in Afghanistan. A lot of the schools after 2001 was no more, and there are still too few teachers. Without the help of the international community, the Afghan state is not able to rebuild its education sector.

Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, are still about 90 percent of women and half of men are illiterate. Illiteracy is one of the biggest obstacles in rebuilding the country.

Ersatzschule im Dorf Askalan: Unterricht im Freien

Traditional Education
Previous to the implementation of the modern educational system children education was mainly a task of the family, where family means three or four generations living together in one house. The family relayed its knowledge via tales, songs and poems. When the boys reached an age of about six years they were sent to the mosque in order to learn to read and write on the basis of the Koran, poems or tales. Young girls were also allowed to join this kind of education, but from the age of nine they normally had to housework.

Modern education
The first secular school according to the western model establishing a modern educational system was opened under Habibullah Khan in 1904.
In 1919, after the ministry of education had been founded, the expansion of the schools was promoted by Amir Amanullah Khan. At the time, this was considered by the state to be one of its most important tasks. Western learning aids were translated and via close cultural relationships to countries like Germany and France secondary schools like lycées and highschools were founded. In 1924 the Amani grammar school opened in which German was tought as a main subject in the sixth grade.

The cultural relations opened ways for further education or studies abroad. Women were allowed to study in Turky while their male colleagues could travel also to Germany, France, and the Sowjet Union. These well-educated Afghans were supposed to be the basis for the further development of the educational system of their country. Several new kinds of schools emerged in these times in Afghanistan. Besides elementary and grammar schools also polytechnics were founded, e.g. covering mechanics and agriculture. Most of these institutions were set up in Kabul.

The establishment of new educational institutions
1932 Kabul University
1962 University Nangarhar, Jalalabad
1943 Trade School of Kabul
1968 Polytechnic University of Kabul
1988 University of Islamic Studies, Kabul

The university of Kabul, founded in 1932, is the most important high school of the country. First, the medical faculty was established. Later on the faculties of law, natural sciences, literature and others followed. In 1972 the university comprised twelve faculties.

Teil der zerstörten Universität Kabul 2004

This improved educational situation yielded new economics and employment. Key positions were often held by the same academics who had been educated abroad. Intellectuals had a privileged life. But peasants and religious leaders opposed this development. They preferred seeing their children on the fields and in the house in order to secure their own living. In that way the country became polarized and radicalized.

In the 1960s the school education system at its peak reached under King Zahir Shah. In reality, this meant that about 20 per cent of children of school age were attending school and there are about 70 to 80 percent illiteracy in the urban areas and 90 percent in rural areas. Through the cultural exchange and competition in the sixties and seventies, a lot of new, State of the art school complexes were built. in 1967, the German Federal President Heinrich Lübke in Kabul laid the foundation stone for the new Amani Oberrealschule at their high school German teacher science subjects taught in German. Other industrialized countries also built schools in Kabul as the AB Durrani girls high school or the French-speaking Esteklal-gymnasium.

In Afghanistan, there is an official compulsory education 7-13 years

The school system is structured as follows:
Village school, 1st to 3rd class
Elementary school, grades 1 to 6
Middle school, or middle school, 7th to 9th grade
High school, or high school, 10th to 12th grade

With the completion certificate of 12th class and passing an entrance examination of access to university is possible.

The educational situation in urban areas like Kabul or Herat was unique for Afghanistan in the seventies and eighties. In the partly cosmopolitan cities male and female students participated in mixed lectures and enjoyed a liberal dress code. In rural areas, however, at this time, access to education remained a problem, especially for women. The rigid patriarchal organized, conservative family structure did not allow them to get a formal education. 1979 visited less than a tenth of the girls to school.

Unterricht im Freien: Schule im Stadtteil Taimani in Kabul

But on the other hand, due to the sudden appearing of high numbers of high school graduates only some of them were able to enrol in one of the few universities. The university system needed to be reformed but the government did not addressed itself to this task. This led to turmoils and demonstrations and to the founding of several political motivated associations. One of these was the „Islamic Fraternity“ which supporters under their leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar assaulted other students with acid.

After the 1973's coup d'etat by Mohammed Daud Khan, supported by the Soviet Union, the regime was not able to initiate an educational reform. Intellectuals and technicially educated left the country. Social structures disbanded, but this was not recognized as a danger by the regime.

After the communist putsch in 1978 the Khalq fraction of the marxist DVPA (democratic people's party Afghanistan) started a broad alphabetisation campaign, often forcing veiled women in one classroom together with a male teacher. In 1979, the invasion of the Red Army brought soviet teachers into the country importing their communist ideology, enforcing their curriculum and making the russian language mandatory. Thus, the cultural needs of traditional conservative afghan families were completely violated. After the withdrawl of the Soviet Union in 1989 the number of children who attended classes was lower than in the years before the war.

During the occupation by the Soviet Union in the 1980s about 2000 schools were destroyed and thousands of teachers left the country. Intellectuals, lecturers, and teachers were punished to death or arrested. The infrastructure and social structure of the country decayed completely.


From 1980 on many schools have been founded for the children of afghan refugees in the north-west boundary provinces of Pakistan and Baluchistan. Supporters of the afghan resistance were eager to educate their children in the spirit of an islamistic ideology. Once again, education was abused for political interests. Negotiating the pakistanian boarder islamic schools or so called "madrassas" (Koran schools) have been springing up. In these schools the Taliban movement had its seeds in the early 1990s.

During the Taliban years (1994 to 2001) it was not allowed for girls to join school lessons and women were not allowed to work as teachers. This exclusion had a dramatic influence on education because a big part of the teachers were actually women. Up to 200 boys were brought together in one school class and the pupils hardly learned anything. Under the control of the Taliban many schools were modified to "madrassas" and the religious studies had an even stronger influence on the curriculum. From 1997 to 1999 the number of pupils has been reduplicated in these religious schools.

One of the reasons why the Taliban distrusted the secular education was that lots of them have not been well educated, too. Usually they were brought up in the exclusively male dominated madrassases in Pakistan or Afghanistan in which the learning was restricted to the mechanically repeating of the Koran. During these years many NGOs have nevertheless been standing up to provide education especially to young girls. In an underground network NGOs and Afghans founded “Home-Schools“ to provide at least elementary education to the unpriviliged girls. In some parts of the country many of these schools had been closed by the Taliban.


The collapse of the Taliban regime made it possible that afghan girls and boys could be properly educated. The desire for education jumped up. The return of the refugees amplified this in addition - an immense challenge for the still fragile state of Afghanistan.

In 2002 the Asian Development Bank calculated that about 1.24 billion dollars have to be invested in the next ten years to rebuild the destroyed educational system. In additon 40 to 80 million Dollar are needed for teachers every year. In Afghanistan a teacher earns 40 Dollar per month, which is not enough to make a living. Most of the school buildings are destroyed and there is a lack of teachers and administrative specialists. Its a difficult mission to bring teachers back to their profession and to rebuild the ruined educational infrastructure.

Education is one of the most important employer in Afghanistan. But the government on its own is not able to pay its employees. Thus, several international organisations pay a good deal of the salaries and support the reconstruction. Education will remain a big task for the new government for a long time.


• Conrad Schetter, Brief History of Afghanistan, Verlag C.H. Beck, 2004.
• CROSSLINES Essential Field Guides to humanitarian and conflict zones, Afghanistan, 2004,
• Yearbook 2002, African-Asian Scholarships e.V.

Gate 24 Apartments


  1. 23 Jahre = ein bis zwei Generationen.
    Lesestoff zum Nachdenken und Vergleicheziehen.

    Das (gemischte) Beethoven-Gymnasium in Bonn ist übrigens die Partnerschule des Aisha-i-Durani-Mädchengymnasium.

  2. “2002 errechnete die Asian Development Bank, dass für den Wiederaufbau des zerstörten Bildungssektors im kommenden Jahrzehnt circa 1,24 Milliarden Dollar investiert werden müssen. ” – eine relativ geringe Summe, wenn man sieht, mit welchen Beträgen hier in Europa umgegangen wird.
    Sehr interessanter Artikel mit guten Photos als Illustration.

    1. Vielen Dank!
      Gemessen bei einem BIP von ca 4,5 Milliarden Dollar im Jahr 2002 ist das ziemlich viel.

    2. Für Afghanistan ja, aber wir (DE) könnten das aus der Portokasse zahlen – das meinte ich.

  3. bitte Link aktualisieren.
    Conrad Schetter wurde am 17.02.2022 neu aufgelegt