The Ministry of Education defines inclusive education as “an approach to whole school improvement that will ensure that national strategies for Education for All are really for all” (p. 19). Inclusive education could also be seen as “a system that ensures that all children have equal access to quality education in their community schools regardless of their gender, abilities, disabilities, backgrounds, health conditions and circumstances.” (p. 10). In this system, children learn at their own pace and have access to school and community based as well as external support systems, all to ensure that their individual needs are responded to effectively. Additionally, curricula, assessments and examinations are flexible and learner-centered, encouraging children to learn and to develop self-esteem and confidence.
Special education needs
The groups in need of special attention and/or resources specifically mentioned in the Constitution (2004) and the Education Law (2008) are: children with different language backgrounds, children with disabilities, gifted and talented students, girls, and nomadic children.
Article 46 of the Constitution (2004) states that establishing and administering higher, general and specialized educational institutions is the duty of the state. According to article 15 of the Education Law, “education of children and adults who need special education and training and due to different reasons are left behind from education and training shall be provided in different educational levels, in accordance to its related rules”. The Law aims to “provide special education for the blind and disabled students in appropriate and needed fields” (p. 8). That said, according to Afghanistan Report submitted for the 48th session of the International Conference on Education (2008), “the text of this article is somewhat ambiguous, as it can be interpreted in different ways. It can be interpreted as a sanctioning of a flexibility education system designed to accommodate children with different needs and abilities. However it can also be interpreted as a promotion of special education in more segregated settings.” (p. 32). Special schools receive support from a number of international and local nongovernmental organizations and UN agencies. The Kabul Blind School is the only government special school exclusively for blind children in Afghanistan. “Special schools for the deaf” are also located in Jalalabad and Kabul. That said, the majority of children with visual impairment who are going to school are enrolled in integrated or inclusive schools. In addition, special sign language classes have been established in a few regular schools for children who use Sign language as their first language.
Integrated and inclusive schools
Integrated education programmes have led to the enrolment of hundreds of children with disabilities in regular community schools and Community Rehabilitation Development Centers (CRDC) for children, youth and adults with disabilities have been established throughout Afghanistan with support from international and national NGOs, including the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA). Community-based rehabilitation is a strategy within community development for the rehabilitation, equalisation of opportunities and social integration of people with disabilities (UN, 1994). In this respect, children with physical (motor and mobility) impairments are enrolled in regular schools and receive rehabilitation and some education at home through community-based rehabilitation services (CBR) in 13 different provinces.
All things considered, according to the Accessibility Organizations for Afghan Disabled, 95% of children with disabilities in Afghanistan do not attend schools due to inaccessible environment.
Afghanistan ratified the Convention against Discrimination in Education in 2010. The Constitution (2004) specifies that “education is the right of all citizens of Afghanistan, which shall be offered up to the bachelor’s level in the state educational institutes free of charge by the state” (Article 43). It also emphasizes compulsory basic education up to grade 9, particularly the education of girls and supports the promotion of knowledge, culture, art, moral/ethics, national and local languages. Moreover, Article 22 of the Constitution (2004) states that “any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan is forbidden”. In the Education Law (2008) aims to ensure equal rights of education and training for the citizens “through promotion and development of universal, balanced and equitable education”. The National Education Strategic Plan 2017-2021 forms the framework for implementation of the Education Law (2008). It includes strategies directed at learners with special needs, IDPs, returnees and other disadvantaged groups to promote “inclusion”. It aims to create a school and classroom environment that is safe, healthy, non-discriminatory, inclusive and child-friendly. Finally, the Ministry of Education has developed an Inclusive and Child-Friendly Education Policy (signed in December 2014 but was still not implemented in 2018) which aims to establish resource centers and support units from national over provincial and district level to implement progressively inclusive education. In parallel, the National Literacy Strategy (2013) aims to increase national literacy rates from 36% in 2013 to 60% in 2020, targeting females, language minority groups, isolated communities, Kuchis and people with disabilities. To do so, people with physical disabilities will receive additional attention in the areas of curriculum design and material support, facilitator training and the provision of a special learning environment.
Afghanistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2012. Moreover, Article 53 of the Constitution affirms that the State shall adopt necessary measures to regulate reintegration of the disabled and handicapped persons and their active participation in society. The ONG Tearfund and Serve Afghanistan have been working for many years to ensure disabled children have access to quality education. The programme "Enabling and Mobilising Afghan Disabled" (EMAD) aims to empower disabled children, especially those with hearing and visual impairments in “model schools for inclusive education” in Kabul province. Thanks to this initiative, each school has master trainers for braille, sign language and inclusive education. The Ministry of Education works closely with Serve to train teachers in inclusive education, and has asked for their support in ensuring that the national public policy is implemented at the local level.
Afghanistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2003. Thus, Article 44 of the Constitution (2004) adds that “the State shall devise and implement effective programs for balancing and promoting of education for women” and that “the citizens of Afghanistan, men and women, have equal rights and duties before the law”. The Education Law (2008) also aims to protect the women rights and elimination of every kind of discrimination. In this respect, the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women (2009) provides under Article 35 that “if a person prohibits a woman from the right of education […], considering the circumstance the offender shall be sentenced”.
The National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan 2008-2018 aimed to increase the enrolment and retention rates of girls and women at all levels of education and create an enabling environment where girls and women have equal access to all levels of education, equal treatment in the classroom and equal opportunities. To do so, the Government of Afghanistan implemented affirmative action measures to encourage women to pursue careers as teachers, particularly in remote areas and provided incentives, such as higher salaries and opportunities for training, to become and remain teachers. In this regard, UNDP supported policy reviews for eight ministries and completed a Policy Review Toolkit to help ministries mainstream gender in policy- and decision-making processes. Gender equity and improvement of female education was also the main principle of the National Policy for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (2013-2018).
An accelerated learning programme also offers a community-based ‘fast-track’ route for out-of-school and over-age (10–15) girls to complete their primary education (Grade 6). Thus, some 3,000 women aged 10–30, including married women, are being supported to complete high school and earn diplomas issued by the Ministry of Education. Funding for research into sexual and gender-based violence at universities is also one of the key measure implemented in Afghanistan to support the right to education of girls. The construction of boundary walls around schools and the provision of clean water and sanitation facilities that are accessible to girls with or without disabilities have helped to ensure that 2 million girls were enrolled in primary schools and secondary schools throughout the country in 2009. All things considered, most of the education programmes have a strong gender component.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Article 43 of the Constitution (2004) sets out that “the state shall design and implement effective programs and prepare the ground for teaching mother tongues in areas where they are spoken”. However, Article 32 of the Education Law (2008) states that “teaching in public educational institutions, national private educational institutions, educational and training programmes and centers for literacy, and basic practical education, shall be taught in one of the state official languages.” (?) In fact, the language of teaching shall be selected from one of the two state official languages, based on the current language spoken by the majority of the population residing in the area, in accordance with its related rule. The same Act also identifies the objective to acquire functional literacy and develop skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening in the national and international languages. In addition, learning Pashto and Dari languages in the schools and educational institutions is compulsory. The MOE Inclusive and Child-Friendly Education Policy (2014) has identified children from language minorities as vulnerable to marginalization and it stipulates that multilingual approaches in education should consider language as an integral part of a student’s cultural identity. Finally, school books are produced in two national languages (Dari and Pashtu) and in several minority languages, including Baluchi, Nuristani, Pamiri, Pashaee, Turkmeni and Uzbeki. However, there are more than 32 languages that are spoken in Afghanistan and “many children are therefore not able to receive education in their mother tongue”.
People living in rural or remote areas and nomads
Since 2006, policy and guidelines for Community Based Education (CBE) have been developed to facilitate the provision of education in early grades in remote rural areas. The Ministry of Education and national and international NGOs have also set up classes in small villages throughout rural parts, in homes, Mosques and community centers. (MOE and UNESCO, 2009) Moreover, Article 44 of the Constitution (2004) sets out that “the State shall devise and implement effective programs for balancing and improving of education of nomads and elimination of illiteracy in the country”.
Education is the fourth pillar of the Poverty Reduction Strategy (2008). The Ministry of Education also aims to increase current low primary attendance and improve secondary school enrolments especially for poor and disadvantaged children in rural areas where only 21% of girls and 43% of boys attend school. A detailed Education Sector Analysis (ESA) was conducted to provide the basis for discussion and planning.
The National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons (2013) gives the Ministry of Education responsibilities to ensure that primary and secondary education is free and compulsory for all displaced children. It affirms that no student should be denied access to a school owing to a lack of school records or tazkira (Afghan national identity card), schoolbooks, uniforms or other supplies. It also highlights the obligation of the Ministry of Education “to ensure that primary and secondary education is free and compulsory for all IDP children, girls as well as boys”. Measures to be taken by education officials concern access to school for displaced children even where documentation, such as school records, is missing, support for IDP teachers, expansion of classes, teaching and teaching materials in areas of displacement etc. The Ministry of Education is also committed to building new schools/classrooms in areas with large numbers of returnees.
The Ministry of Education has the principal mandate for education. Nevertheless, other Ministries and government agencies also implement programmes to promote inclusive education. The Ministries of Higher Education, of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, of Hajj and Religious Affairs, of Women’s Affairs and of Rural Rehabilitation and Development all provide support education services.
In 2008, a Coordination Working Group on Inclusive Education (IECWG) co-chaired by UNESCO and the Ministry of Education with the participation of NGOs and UN agencies was established. This group aims to support the Ministry of Education to create a shared conceptual understanding of inclusive education among all key stakeholders, to advocate for the advancement of inclusive education in Afghanistan and to review existing and proposed policies, strategies and guidelines in order to make recommendations to ensure they become inclusive.
UNESCO, in collaboration with Ministry of Education and the Coordination Working Group on Inclusive Education (IECWG), conducted a Needs and Rights Assessment on Inclusive Education in 2008 and made recommendations to initial moves toward inclusive education in Afghanistan with a detailed plan of action for the next five years.
Finally, the National Education Strategic Plan 2017-2021 stipulates that the responsibility for a common set of inclusive education outcomes will be jointly assumed by the Ministry of Education and partners, DPs, NGOs and civil society.
Article 7 of the Education Act states that the State shall equip public schools for the outstanding, gifted and talented students and students with special needs. In this regard, the National Education Strategic Plan 2017-2021 recognizes the importance of coordinating decentralised responsibilities to all Ministries cooperating at the provision of education at Province and District levels; therefore, Community Development Councils (CDCs) are also involved in the construction of schools through community contracts. The same Plan also aims to expand the provision of schools with dormitories for students, especially girls, from insecure and under-developed and under-privileged districts.
Article 45 of the Constitution (2004) stipulates that “the state shall devise and implement an unified educational curricula based on the tenets of the sacred religion of Islam, national culture as well as academic principles, and develop religious subjects curricula for schools on the basis of existing Islamic sects in Afghanistan”. In this regard, the curriculum reform process was initiated in 2016. The curriculum reform strongly considered the gender aspects and human rights as crosscutting issues. The document Needs & rights assessment: inclusive education in Afghanistan (2009) produced by UNESCO Office Kabul and the Ministry of Education reiterated that “all children with and without disabilities should go to the same school and follow the same curriculum” (p. 50). Additionally, “the development of curricula for special schools or special needs education in ordinary schools should therefore follow the general curriculum. These curricula should later be modified and used by itinerant teachers for children with disabilities in inclusive schools” (p. 50).
Learning materials and ICTs
Language textbooks are developed and printed in the three official languages with the aim of promoting other local languages in the areas where the majority of people speak in those languages. The National Education Strategic Plan 2017-2021 plans to provide additional funding to cover the development of materials (e.g. textbooks in Braille) for children unable to enter mainstream schooling.
In 2009, a new section under the Curriculum Development Directorate was established to develop audiovisual material based on the new curriculum. Another project, One Laptop Per Child, aimed to promote computer literacy and to increase the connectivity through internet. 580 grade students of the Isteqlal High School in Jalalabad received XO laptops in 2009. This facilitated inclusiveness and improved learning achievement of all students including children with disabilities and others children vulnerable to exclusion from and within education. Finally, children with visual impairment are not able to have their exams in Braille as there is no centralised government-owned Braille production facility in Afghanistan.
In 2019, a new course on Fundamentals of Inclusion and Special Needs Education was being developed to be incorporated into the education plan as a compulsory credit course. In addition, the “Embracing Diversity – Toolkit for Creating Inclusive, Learning-Friendly Environment” (developed by UNESCO) has been translated into Dari and Pashto.
The National Education Strategic Plan 2017-2021 covers all teachers, males and females. Because genders have differential access to training opportunities, the Ministry of Education aims to monitor regularly how female teachers integrate the education system. The Plan also aims to increase the deployment of female teachers in all areas, especially rural. To do so, the Ministry of Education will pilot the use of incentives (such as housing, salary supplements, inclusion of family members, special security provisions, etc.) to encourage qualified female teachers from urban areas to relocate to under-served areas.
The Ministry of Education produces progress reports, such as the Education Sector Analysis Afghanistan Volume I (2016). Some indicators are used to monitor the inclusion of girls, such as the percentage of net enrollment in schools and in universities, the retention rate of girl students in education, the percentage of women in teaching and nonteaching positions including policy and decision-making.
That said, in 2009 (and today), there is no data related to children with ADHD/ADD, autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple-impairments, developmental impairment, deaf-blindness or suffering from neglect, abandonment and abuse in Afghanistan. In addition, there are no reliable statistics on the number of children who are excluded from school because they live too far away from the nearest school and no comprehensive data on the prevalence and number of children with disabilities in Afghanistan. However, in 2018, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF published the Report “A global initiative on out-of-school children” which, based on existing data, seeks to identify the barriers preventing children in Afghanistan from attending school, identify gaps in the current approaches to addressing these barriers and provide policy recommendations to move forward effectively.