Afghanistan is a landlocked country bordering several countries: China, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The mountains divide the country into three distinct regions: the central highlands; the northern plains; and the southwest desert plateau. The Hindu Kush Mountains separate the country's western and eastern regions, and stretch across the Central Highlands — a mountainous region. The Northern Plains are very fertile and have some of the best soil in Afghanistan, while the Southwestern Plateau is uninhabitable and is a region of high plateaus and desert covering more than 50,000 miles.
Afghanistan's population of nearly 30 million people includes a variety of tribal and ethnic groups, including Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazara, Uzbek, Turkmen, Aimaq and Beluci. The Pashtuns comprise 38-50 percent of the population. They speak Pashto and traditionally have lived in the Northwest Frontier region and south of the Hindu Kush. The Tajiks are the second largest ethnic group making up about 25 percent of the population. The Tajiks speak Dari and live in the northern valleys of Kabul and Badakhshan. The Hazara constitute 19 percent of the overall population of Afghanistan.
Throughout history, great powers have sought control over Afghanistan due to its strategic geographic location. Two prominent historical figures attempted to conquer Afghanistan: Darius I in 500 B.C. and Alexander the Great in 330 B.C. From 1813 to the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907, Afghanistan was the focal point of Britain's and Tsarist Russia's struggle for domination of Central Asia, often referred to as “The Great Game.” The British, convinced that Russia would attack India from Afghanistan, tried to prevent this through assertive diplomatic actions and two open conflicts known as the Anglo-Afghan Wars. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and occupied the country until 1989, when it officially withdrew its troops. With the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan came perhaps the most ambitious attempt to standardize the country's educational system.
During the Taliban's rule of the majority of the country from 1996 to 2001, the educational system underwent another transformation, as girls and women were denied access to education.
Today, Afghanistan is rebuilding its educational system, which suffered after years of Soviet occupation and Taliban rule. From 1979 to 2002, 80 percent of all educational facilities were destroyed. The Taliban dismantled education just as quickly as the Soviets had built it. The gross enrollment rate for boys was 54 percent and for girls was 12 percent before the civil war. During the Soviet occupation, the number of girls being educated rose to 34 percent. During the civil war the number of children enrolled in school declined drastically. Books, supplies, equipment and physical facilities were destroyed.
The demand for education in Afghanistan is staggering, but cannot be met in the short term. There are currently 4.5 million school-aged children in the country. An additional 3.5 million children were refugees in Iran and Pakistan and are in the process of returning. There is an entire generation of students whose education was interrupted by war, migration or hardship. Children make up 40 percent of Afghanistan's population. It is estimated that the Afghan government would need to produce more than 4,300 teachers each year for the next 10 years to handle the expected needs of school-aged children. Additionally, if one factors in adults who have had no educational opportunities, another 40,000 teachers would be needed.
Currently, education in Afghanistan is overseen by the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Higher Education.
Primary education is of key importance to the Afghan government. As of 2003, an estimated 4.5 million children of primary school age, approximately 900,000 boys and 90,000 girls are in primary school. Only 43 percent of Afghan children complete primary school. Primary school begins at age seven and continues for six years. There are many types of education at the primary level including community, government, home-based, and religious schools, as well as schools administered by non-governmental organizations. Education is compulsory and free for all students. Radio instruction is widely used for children and adults.
5 to 11 percent of the population comprises secondary school-aged children. In 1993, only 3 percent of the students enrolled in grade one graduated from grade 12. Secondary education culminates at grade 12. Secondary education is split into two three-year cycles. Secondary schooling begins with middle secondary, which is three years in length, and students begin this level of education at age 13 and complete it at age 16. Upper Secondary school begins at age 17 and is completed at age 19. The diploma awarded at this stage is the Baccaluria.
Vocational Education was once a popular option among Afghan students and still exists today in schools known as Technicums. The students must complete a minimum of grade 8 and are between ages 14 to 16. The training typically covers specific areas in a “real world” environment such as banking, finance and telecommunications. Upon completion, students receive a Vocational Baccaluria.
The Ministry of Higher Education (MOHE) governs higher education. There are 68 institutions of higher education. Classes are held from March to January. The languages of instruction are Pashto / Pushto, Persian and sometimes English.
The first degree awarded is a bachelor's degree. Most bachelor's degrees are four years in length. Engineering and Veterinary Medicine programs are five years in length. Programs in Medicine are seven years in length.
Second and Third Cycles
Upon completion of the bachelor's degree program, a student may study an additional two years to earn a master's degree. Doctorate degrees are offered in certain select fields such as architecture, arts, engineering, natural sciences and social sciences. All doctoral programs follow the masters degree and are three years in length.
Teacher Training Colleges offer two-year programs. The greatest need currently is to train primary school teachers, although teachers are needed at all levels. Primary school teachers receive their training at the upper secondary level of education. Middle secondary school teachers must complete a two-year program at a Teacher Training College. This two-year program begins after the completion of secondary school. Secondary school teachers must follow a four–year program after secondary school and must be accepted to the final two years of this course. Teachers interested in teaching at the tertiary level of education must possess a minimum of a bachelor's degree.