Worlds of Education

Shining a light on the right to education in Afghanistan

published 8 June 2023 updated 20 March 2024
written by:

Today, the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations will discuss the desperate situation of human rights in Afghanistan, at the International Labour Conference, in Geneva. Through the Afghan Teachers’ Rights Observatory, Education International collects testimonies and calls attention to the terrible conditions facing teachers and the severe limitations placed on girls’ right to education by the Taliban regime.

Since the Taliban took power in August 2021 the rights of Afghanistan’s citizens, especially the country’s women and girls, have been under constant attack.

Almost every day brings further evidence that the Taliban are implementing a massive rollback of rights.

One of the first and most high profile rights violations was the decision not to allow secondary schools for girls to reopen. Despite announcements that adolescent girls’ would be allowed to return to school that never happened and instead more and more restrictions on education in general and on women and girls have been enacted.

Since then tertiary institutions have been closed to female students and staff. More recently the ability of women and girls to leave their homes without a male chaperone, to work or in fact to participate in any aspect of life outside the home has been denied.

Whilst Taliban policies on education since August 2021 have been fragmented and often incoherent, it is clear that the situation has got worse not better.

However, a comprehensive and accurate picture has been difficult to piece together, with little effective and systematic monitoring.

Most embassies have closed, so member states have little ability to have their own staff monitor developments in the education sector. The Taliban has muzzled and censored the Afghan media, and the international media has mostly moved on.

"Teachers have been paid partially and intermittently or not at all since August 2021. Most have gone months without their salaries."

Observatory will fill critical information gaps

This is why the launch of the Afghan Teachers’ Rights Observatory is so welcome.

Information provided by teachers and shared by the observatory will fill critical gaps in what we know about the state of the education sector and the right to education in Afghanistan.

The right to education is about much more than whether schools are open. The working conditions and payment of teachers, dress codes and conduct rules, access to teaching and learning materials, changes to the curriculum, gender segregation of classes and staff and how schools are monitored are all critical issues which directly influence the ability to exercise the right to education.

The payment of teachers

The payment of teacher’s salaries is a case in point.

Teachers have been paid partially and intermittently or not at all since August 2021. Most have gone months without their salaries but because of regional differences and arbitrary decision making it has been very difficult to collate a comprehensive picture regarding the payment of teachers across the entire country.

This is a critical issue both because of its direct impact on the education system but also the wider effect on the personal and familial wellbeing of teachers.

A school principal interviewed by Human Rights Watch said “One of the biggest problems we face in the education sector is that teachers’ salaries have not been paid. The teachers are also economically vulnerable, and for most of them, their salary is the only source of income. They have rents to pay and bills to take care of with the small amount they receive per month.”

The irregular payment of teachers is exacerbating one of the world's most extensive and severe hunger crises, pushing teachers and their families to the edge of survival.

Another principal told Human Rights Watch her teachers, “can’t feed their children. One told us she buys one kilogram of cold, dry, and unusable bread for 10 Afs [$0.11] and makes something with them to feed her children. Hearing this made me cry.”

In addition to the devastating impact that these hardships have on teachers themselves they also affect the ability of the education system to function and the quality of education provided.

Observatory will support the vital work of teacher representatives

It is just one of the issues that the information collected through the Afghan Teachers’ Rights Observatory will illuminate. And illuminate it and the myriad of other violations of the right to education in Afghanistan we must.

Accurate information on what’s happening in Afghanistan is critical if we are to have any chance of influencing policy and practice in the country.

A comprehensive and up to date picture will be key in informing the international community but even more importantly it will support the National Teacher Education Council (NTEC), Education International’s Afghan affiliate, perform their vital work.

I had the opportunity to meet NTEC on a visit to Afghanistan in February 2022 and saw firsthand the important work that it does, representing the interests of teachers in discussions with international agencies, non-government organizations and the Afghan authorities.

Being able to share the experience of their members will enhance the vital advocacy and representation that NTEC are already doing.

I look forward to working with NTEC, Education International and advocates worldwide to amplify the information collected via the Observatory in order to protect and promote the right to education in Afghanistan.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.