Educational Challenges in Afghanistan

Written by Charlotte Lagadec-Jacob


The Taliban’s takeover in 2021 has had a devastating impact on the education system in Afghanistan. The declining quality of education and the promotion of gender inequality have become major concerns for the international community. Last year, UNESCO dedicated its International Day of Education to Afghan girls and women. 

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Although Afghanistan has signed multiple UN human rights treaties and conventions, which aim for access to education to all, gender equality and children’s rights, the new education system established by the Taliban restricts access to education for young women, allows the use of corporal punishment at school and has led to a deterioration of the overall quality of education for both boys and girls.

Impact on girls and women’s educational rights

The Taliban takeover in Afghanistan had a negative impact on access to education for girls and women. This issue has been raised by the United Nations as well as NGOs in several reports. Education is a fundamental right enshrined in the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The restrictions imposed on girls and women violate several treaties signed by Afghanistan which prohibit gender-based discrimination. 

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Decrease of the school attendance rate among girls and women

The bans imposed by the Taliban on access to secondary and higher education for girls and women have resulted in a rising drop-out rate among female students in Afghanistan.  

Article 28.1 (e) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 states: 

Governments should “take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.”

Despite the ratification of this Convention by Afghanistan, 75% girls are currently out of school. This makes Afghanistan one of the countries with the highest out-of-school rates for girls in the world.

While the ban on access to secondary education for girls was introduced in 2021 as a temporary measure, it is still ongoing. Moreover, the ban on access to university for women violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that higher education should be ‘accessible to all on the basis of merit’ as opposed to gender. 

Low literacy rate among women 

Most women in Afghanistan are currently illiterate. Despite Afghanistan being a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child which encourages the elimination of illiteracy, the literacy rate in Afghanistan is currently among the lowest in the world. This particularly applies to women as only 20.6% of Afghan women are literate. 

Being literate is important for daily tasks and cannot be neglected. In the long term, restricting access to education might worsen this situation and jeopardise Afghan girls and women’s independence and future, as it also makes accessing information about humanitarian support more difficult. 

Impact on boys’ educational rights 

Boys are also negatively affected by the new education system introduced under the Taliban. According to Human Rights Watch, boys and their parents have noticed a deterioration in boys’ access to education as well as the quality of their education.

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Corporal punishment 

The use of corporal punishment on boys is becoming more prevalent at school and constitutes a severe violation of human rights law. The Human Rights Watch has reported an increasing use of corporal punishment at school and interference of the “Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” with the functioning of Afghan schools since the new education measures were put in place by the Taliban. 

Corporal punishment violates international law and the Convention of the Rights of the Child which was signed by Afghanistan. This convention is complemented by Article 39 the Afghanistan’s education act 2008 which prohibits all forms of punishment at school. 

Afghan students have reported an increasing use of corporal punishment for moral crimes since the Taliban took power in 2021. Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety among boys are unfortunately common consequences of the restrictive measures imposed by the Taliban at school. 

Decreased school attendance rate 

As with girls, the attendance rate of boys at school has decreased since the Taliban takeover.  This may be related to the economic and humanitarian situation of the country which puts more pressure on boys, thus resulting in decreased attendance. Moreover, the regime of fear established by the Taliban at school and a loss of motivation due to the low quality of education may lead some male students to stop coming to class.

Promotion of a misogynistic society 

Barring girls and women from studying and teaching also has a negative impact on the quality of learning of boys in Afghanistan and promotes values in contradiction with human rights treaties and conventions signed by the country.

Under the Taliban regime, female teachers are restricted to teach boys and were replaced by men regardless of their qualifications and experience. Sometimes, no replacement could be found, leading to the disruption of classes.  This certainly has had a deteriorating effect on the quality of education of boys.

In addition to the decline of the quality of education caused by these replacements or teacher shortage, the new education system established under the Taliban promotes values in contradiction with rights enshrined in human rights treaties. Gender-based segregation by excluding girls from secondary schools and universities as well as the modification of the school curriculum may also have a negative impact on boys as it shows them an example of society where men and women are not equal. This promotion of misogyny violates several human rights treaties ratified by Afghanistan which provides that men and women should enjoy the same rights and be equal. 

These new decrees introduced by the Taliban regarding education constitute severe violations of human rights law.  

Impact on the overall quality of education

In addition to the ban on female teachers which severely undermines the quality of education in Afghanistan, the change of curriculum by the Taliban and the condition of facilities in some schools constitute significant challenges to the current education system of the country.

Change in curriculum 

The new curriculum established under the Taliban does not align with human rights law and appears to deny women’s rights. Human rights treaties provide that education should encourage the full development of the human personality and the respect of human rights. 

Despite the ratification of these treaties by Afghanistan, important subjects such as English, civic education, physical education, arts have been removed and the new curriculum focuses primarily on religion as well as on the view of women’s Islamic rights. A report obtained by Human Rights Watch in January 2022 which is believed to be an internal proposal for the revision of the curriculum contains discriminatory statements such as: 

“Many books have presented women’s rights as human rights. The teachers must explain women’s rights through the framework of Islam, not what the West calls women’s rights.”

Issues with the condition of educational facilities and infrastructure

Poor standards of hygiene and a lack of clean water, toilets and soap may also have an impact on school attendance. In over 50% of schools in Afghanistan, there is no clean drinking water and in over one-third of schools, there are no toilets where students can wash their hands. 

Conclusion and recommendations

Despite the ratification of multiple human rights treaties and conventions by Afghanistan, the Taliban have established an education system which causes gender-based discrimination, promotes illiteracy and allows human rights violations such as corporal punishment at school. Different recommendations can be made to address these issues. 

Combating illiteracy among girls and women in Afghanistan

The high rate of illiteracy (particularly among girls and women) in Afghanistan calls for action. For example, the EU, UN Women and UNESCO have collaborated in implementing the project “Empowering women and adolescent girls in Afghanistan through literacy and skills development for sustainable livelihoods”. Other projects could be initiated in this regard. 

Encouraging vocational and community-based education for girls and women

Among options currently available to girls and women to remedy the ban on secondary and higher education imposed by the Taliban, vocational education can be considered. This alternative can help women secure self-employment, thus allowing them to obtain financial independence. UNESCO currently provides literacy and pre-vocational training to over 55,000 young people and adolescents (over 68% of students are women and adolescent girls) in Afghanistan. UNICEF also provides children (mostly girls) with community-based education classes and teaching and learning materials. 

Providing women with teacher training

Teacher training could be provided to women who aspire to teach. This was the approach taken by UNICEF for its Girls’ Access to Teacher Education (GATE) programme. 

Addressing corporal punishment at school

The use of corporal punishment on children constitutes a severe violation of human rights law and might severely undermine the quality of education of boys as it may lead some students to drop out of school. It is urgent to act to prevent such punishments at school. 

Improving the condition of educational facilities to foster attendance at school.

Since 2024, UNICEF and the EU have joined forces in improving the condition of buildings and classrooms in 385 public primary schools in Afghanistan. UNICEF stressed the importance of ‘rehabilitating classrooms, building toilets and water systems’.


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