Afghanistan: Survey provides meaningful insights into the experiences of teachers and students under the Taliban regime

published 25 March 2024 updated 15 April 2024

Education International (EI) hosted a union side event at the 68th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) to highlight the plight of girls and women teachers in Afghanistan who have been forbidden from going to school and teaching since the Taliban takeover in 2021.

Addressing a gathering of women unionists and activists on 13 March, the EI delegation shared the preliminary results of a survey among Afghan teachers on the current state of the profession and of the right to education in the country.

“When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, all teaching centres were closed, but after a while they only opened boys’ schools and girls were not even allowed to leave the house. Closing girls’ schools caused a large proportion of female teachers to become unemployed. A while later, the Taliban only allowed girls to go to school up to the 7th grade to go to school. They are not allowed to study until 12th grade.”

Anonymous testimonial from a male Afghan teacher

To carry out this survey, EI developed an online platform with one of its member organisations in the country, the National Teacher Elected Council (NTEC), to collect impressions from Afghan teachers. In total, 2517 testimonials from Afghan teachers, including 60% of women teachers, were collected from March to May 2023 in 23 provinces of the country. This collection of firsthand accounts reveals the real-life and multifaceted challenges experienced by educators on the ground and will contribute to the ongoing advocacy efforts for their rights and well-being.

This survey is part of the initiatives taken by EI to champion the rights of Afghan teachers following the Taliban’s seizing of power in August 2021. In 2022, EI took a significant step in this direction with the launch of the  Afghan Teacher's Rights Observatory, an online platform created to document the situation of education in Afghanistan, addressing critical aspects such as teachers' salaries, working conditions, human rights violations, gender equity, girls' access to education, restrictions on women teachers, safety, and curriculum adherence to international human rights standards.

Meaningful insights despite challenges

The initiative faced serious obstacles, including school closures due to winter conditions and, concerns for the safety of participants. In some provinces, particularly in the Southeast, the focal persons for the survey even encountered harassment and detention or were forced to resign due to security issues and fear of prosecution.

“We salute those teachers, both men and women, who continue to advocate for girls’ and women’s rights, despite the risks to their own lives," stated ​Susan Hopgood, President of Education International.

Since they seized power, the Taliban’s attack on girls’ and women’s rights has been relentless. In August 2021, Taliban restricted access to secondary and higher education for girls and women and prohibited female teachers from teaching boys.​ In December 2022, they banned women from attending higher education institutions, affecting over 100,000 female students​. Many women teachers have lost their jobs and their livelihoods as they are only allowed to teach girls.

“Can female teachers create a safe environment for their students with this fear and insecurity? Can students learn with a good quality of education with this sense of insecurity transmitted from their teachers? In my opinion, if this problem is not taken seriously by the Taliban government, it will cause a huge disaster in the field of teaching and educating women and girls in Afghanistan.”

Anonymous testimonial from a female Afghan university professor

The repercussions of these policies will be devastating for generations of girls and women in Afghanistan. An estimated 7.8 million children were out of school in Afghanistan in 2023.

While the final report is expected later this year, the preliminary results presented at the UNCSW already provide meaningful insights into the experiences of Afghan teachers.

Six provinces (namely Herat, Samangan, Balkh, Nangarhar, Badakhshan, and Kabul), constituting 84% of all responses, displayed high survey numbers, with high numbers of female respondents in those provinces, reflecting over 70% of the total respondents.

Despite the pressure on closing girls’ schools by the Taliban, over 44% of testimonials originated from educators in girls' schools. Over 94% of total respondents asserted that the right to education for girls should be fully protected and implemented. Only 33 respondents (including 22 female teachers) stated girls should “never be educated”.

The majority however (70%) expressed the belief that women should be able to teach in boys' secondary schools, with 1,220 respondents stating they should "always" be allowed.

The survey reveals that satisfaction with the teaching experience and with the working conditions were both relatively low. Regarding working conditions, only 15% of respondents claimed to be very satisfied, while 34% were "satisfied." 603 respondents indicated happiness with their teaching experience, whereas 557 expressed unhappiness, with the majority (39%) describing themselves as "somewhat happy."

A significant finding has to do with the perception of Afghan society towards the teaching profession. While 16% felt society "never" holds the teaching profession in high regard, 20% believed it always does.

The teachers’ wages range from 7,000 to 10,000 AFG (90-130 USD) per month, which is insufficient to cover basic living expenses. Additionally, teacher incomes have been cut by 1,000 AFG in many provinces.​ It is however interesting to note that more than 80% of the respondents confirmed to have received their full salary (65%) or most of it (16%) equally divided between women and men teachers.​

Respondents were also asked if they feel teacher unions are important, and the overwhelming majority, 92%, provided a positive response. The number of both women and men who are members of unions are quite high, over 83% of respondents, with women (50%) being more unionized than men (33%).

Since 2021, EI has called repeatedly on authorities in Afghanistan to ensure that all learners have equal and unrestricted access to learning in a safe and protective environment; to support teachers by paying their salaries on time and engaging in policy dialogue with teachers' organisations; and to eliminate all barriers to girls' and women's participation in education.​

Delegalisation of the Teacher Union NTEC

In January 2024, after enduring months of bureaucratic hurdles and administrative delays, the NTEC leadership received news from the authorities that the organisation would not obtain official registration.​

The setback was twofold: not only was NTEC unable to secure recognition as a teacher union, but its attempts to register as a civil society organisation were also obstructed.​

In January indeed, the Council of Ministers decided to strip government employees of their fundamental right to organize. This turn of events was a severe blow to NTEC, leaving it in a legal limbo, deprived of any recognized status to carry out its activities or effectively engage with its unionised teachers.​

The Afghan authorities' move has sweeping consequences as it completely cancels freedom of association and the right to organize in the public sector. This stresses the need for renewed efforts on the part of global unions to protect and uphold the fundamental rights of workers, particularly those within the crucial field of education.