Afghanistan Table of Contents

Two parallel educational systems function in Afghanistan. Traditional Islamic madrassa found in towns and villages teach children basic moral values and ritual knowledge through the study of the Holy Koran, the Hadith (Sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), and popular edited religious texts. Higher level madrassa located in Herat, Kunduz, Ghazni, Kandahar and Kabul were known as important learning centers. Leading religious leaders also attended famous madrassa in India such as the renowned establishment located at Deoband.

The older generation was educated in madrassa or privately at home. The modern educational system was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century by the government which used it as a means to convince traditionalists of the compatibility of Islam with modernization. This system was subsequently expanded with the continued assistance of France, Germany, Turkey, India, Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union.

In 1935, education was declared universal, compulsory and free. With its expansion, the secular system came to be regarded as the principle medium for creating a national ideology and emphasized productive skills while effectively limiting Islamic studies to ritual knowledge. By the 1960s, technical education assumed critical importance because of the surge in development.

Beginning as early as the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman (1880-1901), considerable attention was paid to extending secular elementary schools, lycees and vocational schools to the rural areas. Nevertheless, education remained primarily the prerogative of upper urban groups. By the 1960s as the expanding government apparatus required more bureaucrats, ninety percent of all school graduates were employed by government with the result that the educated tended to be seen by villagers as government officials. Graduates of madrassa sought careers as religious functionaries or judges.

Since 1978, however, a steady decline has all but demolished the educational infrastructure. Afghanistan in 1996 had the highest illiteracy rate in Asia, for both men and women.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress