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Sustainable Early Grades Community Based Education (SEGCBE) In Afghanistan – OpEd

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Despite its resounding success in terms of facilitating access to primary education, increasing learning achievement, and almost eliminating gender gap in enrollment; Community Based Education (CBE) as a non-formal mode of education is not sustainable Afghanistan due to the fact that CBE classes are supported by NGOs, typically for three to five years, and once they pull out of villages, these classes close down without the Ministry of Education (MoE) taking on their administrative and financial responisbilities due to extreme recourcs constraints. I strongly believe, however, that a community-driven CBE model can be sustained up to at least grade 3 by engaging local communities in education management.

Background and Context

According to formal rules of the MoE, a large number of remote villages do not meet the minimum limit of residents to necessitate the establishment of a government school. Even when they do meet, MoE, in most cases, is not able to establish schools due to logistical and financial constraints. On the other hand, parents are reluctant to send their children, particularly girls, to schools that are outside villages due to unfavorable socio-cultural norms and safety and security concerns. It therefrore is a no surprise, then, that today more than 3.5 million children are out of schools. Worse, yet, the progress to enroll more children has been reversed for the first time since 2002, as a UNICEF study released earlier this year showed that out-of-school (OoS) children have increased form 3.5 million, or 40% of the school-age children only a few years ago, to 3.7 million, or 44% of the school-age children_ girls amount to 60%.

Amidst all this, CBE offers a remedy addressing both supply as well as demand side obstacles to educational access; but what is CBE? A CBE class is established within a village at a villager’s home or a mosque. Space for the class is provided by villagers, books and stationary are supplied by the MoE. NGOs, in most cases, provide teachers with salary and training for a period between three to five years. Research show that CBE improves learning achievement and increases students’ enrollments substantially while also almost eliminating gender-gap in enrollment in early grades education.

However, sustainability of CBE still remains a seemingly insurmountable challenge. This is because, once NGOs withdraw, these classes are often closed down with students transferred to government schools where they were originally registered. Other on-paper options are the establishment of a government primary school if the locality meets minimum population requirement and distance from a government school; or alternatively, a CBE class may continue as an outreach of its hub-school while teacher’s salary and textbooks will be provided by the MoE. Due to severe financial and logistical constraints on the part of the ministry, the latter two options are, however, very rarely implemented.

To add to the complexity, there has never been a pragmatic agreed-upon definition or shared understanding of CBE sustainability. More precisely, different stakeholders (MoE, NGOs, Local Commnunity Councils, and parents) have different opinions about what is it that we should seek to sustain. More precicesly, do we need to keep a CBE class in the village, or that a current batch of students should be sustained without enrolling new batches of students. Thus, against a backdrop of diminishing international aid and extreme resources constraints on the part of the MoE coupled with ambiguity about the long-term prospect and sustainability, the future of CBE as a promising non-formal education model in Afghanistan is obscure and pessimism-embedded.

Achieving Sustainablity

CBE can, however, become sustainable, I strongly believe, at least up to grade three. And by sustainability here, I mean sustainability of the class. Sustainability of the class means that a graduating batch, say form grade 3 of the class, is transferred to a government school while the class enrolls another batch in grade one and so the cycle continues for infinite rounds.

This feat can be achieved by giving a more inclusive role to communities in CBE management and administration with an explicit and clear goal that after an initial three years of external donor funding period is ended, communities will pay teacher’s salary. Grade one to three is a necessary stipulation for the success of this model for several reasons. One, a CBE class can be taught by only one teacher from grade one to grade three by enrolling a batch of students in grade one and teaching them for three successive years until they graduate. A necessary assumption here is that the teacher should be able to teach all subjects in grade one, two, and three_ an assumption that cannot be safely taken after grade three. Another necessary assumption is that in three-year period, there will again be a new batch of students in the village that can be enrolled in grade one_ an assumption that, in my experience, is always true in Afghan villages. Therefore, in each grade one, students of six, seven, and eight years of age can be enrolled.

Two, a student that is eight and is in grade one, may not still be an issue, but eight or beyond can become an issue_ with regard to difference in age between students_, so the class should be taught for three years only. Three, it is financially feasible: if a class goes beyond grade three, there should be more than one teacher and since salary of one teacher is an issue now, by virtue of resources-constraint, having more than one teacher has implications for sustainability.

Four and perhaps the core reason is that the purpose of this model is to ensure all children haver access to education up to at least grade three. Admittedly not all students graduating from grade three of these CBE classes will continue their education_although some will continue by commuting to hub-schools and as these students will be of age nine, ten, or eleven, their age becomes more appropriate to commute to a hub-school.

After three-year funding period, this model assumes a community will be willing to pay its teacher salary_ the only monitory cost unit of CBE. Currently, the perceived notion is that paying teachers’ salary is MoE’s responsibility and if MoE cannot do this, that means lack of access. However, if communities are mobilized during the three years of external support and avtively told that if MoE is not able to pay teachr’s salary, they should pay it themselves; I firmly belive that since a teacher’s salary is about 100 US$ per month, each village can pay it; particularly since they will be handed over with a trained teacher and an MoE recognized class. Also, a teacher’s salary can be paid equally by villagers, or there could be local businessmen, or local philanthropic organizations that may pay the salary in full or in part. However, such options should be explored during the three years funding with local villagers.

This model can be critiqued on the ground that it assumes simplicity at the cost of education provision after grade three at the village level. While this is true, given the ground reality, nonetheless, I argue that it is perhaps the best choice particularly as its opposite/alternative is the lack of access altogether. Additionally, once taken care of the universal literacy issue in the country, the effort can be augmented by other initiatives to facilitate access to education beyond grade three at the village level in Afghanistan.

*Abdul Hamid Hatsaandh, is a Fulbright Scholar from Afghanistan and grad student at Harvard University pursuing master’s in International Education Policy.

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