“Education changes the world.” That is what is says on the WUSC business cards, and this is the sentiment I hear expressed in the conversations we’ve been having with teacher educators in Kabul.
Education has exploded in Afghanistan over the past decade. In 2001 there were fewer than 1 million students in school; now there are nearly 7 million. This number is expected to rise, as more students (especially girls) enter the education system. With an estimate that “some 8.8 million children are likely to require access to primary education by 2020” and “secondary [school] attendance will also increase by 3 million students” (National Education Interim Plan, 2011-2013, p. 13), it is predicted that an additional 211,000 teachers will be required by 2020.
That is a huge demand which must be filled. Part of why my colleagues and I are here is to look at the colleges and universities which offer teacher education programs to pre-service teachers, and to work with Afghan colleagues to explore ways in which the curriculum offered and professional expectations for graduates might be standardized. We don’t pretend that this will be an easy task, but we do believe that there is a simple formula to guide our discussions. If teacher education programs across the country can be accredited as meeting certain agreed upon standards, and if the teachers who graduate from them are known to have certain knowledge, skills and competencies, then the teaching that takes place in the classrooms of Afghanistan will improve. This process will also raise the profile of teaching, as it is important to encourage more people to enter the profession, so that the empty classrooms can once more be filled.
There are a number of ways to become a teacher in Afghanistan. The commonest is to finish grade 12 and then enter a Teacher Training College (TTC), which offers a two year diploma program that prepares you to teach at the Grades 1-10 level. If you want to be a secondary school teacher you must have a degree, so a second way to become a teacher is to enroll in a four year degree program at one of the major provincial universities or, in Kabul, from the Kabul Education University. If one doesn’t have a degree or a diploma, then temporary teaching positions (on a substitute basis) can still be obtained.
The Kabul Education University was established in 2003, when it was granted university status after many years as a teacher training institute. It now has 6 faculties, 4139 students and 164 professors. A student wishing to become a secondary school teacher does a four year degree in his or her subject area (mathematics, geography, biology, or whatever) as well as some classes in pedagogy, and a short teaching practicum.
To be a teacher at the lower grade levels, up to Grade 10, student teachers go to a Teacher Training College (TTC). At the TTC which I visited, there is the main campus and five smaller satellite campuses, located in the various districts of Kabul. Some instructors travel to a satellite campus to teach their classes, so they are closer to the community, whereas others are based only at the main campus. Altogether, there are 3445 (yes, three thousand four hundred and forty-five) pre-service students enrolled in the two year diploma programme, and a further 4356 teachers who are taking full credit in-service training courses. There is a faculty of 200 instructors.
This means that in Kabul today there are over 7500 students learning to be teachers. Each of these institutions has a greater enrolment than many Maritime universities. Even this will not be enough. The need for teachers is so great that both the TTC and Kabul Education University work in shifts. One cohort of students takes their classes in the morning and a second cohort in the afternoon. It is through such steps that the demand can be addressed, although there are still many shortages of teachers, especially in the rural communities.
Although there are efforts to offer incentives for teachers to move to rural communities, teaching is not considered an “attractive” profession. The salaries are low, even by regional standards, and the schools are ill-equipped and often in poor repair following 30 years of conflict. The teacher educators with whom we talked are envious of their counterparts in other countries, who have so many resources. And yet all of them firmly believe in their work. “Education changes the world”, they say, and it is only through having a strong school system that the values and aspirations of a community can be maintained and strengthened. Local schools serving local communities, respectful of local values but teaching to a national standard, is one way to achieve this goal. In consultation and collaboration with these colleagues, the team with which I work hope that we shall be able to help them identify new ways of further improving the teacher education system in Afghanistan.