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.’ An inclusive education system is seen as one 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.’ In such a 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 centred, 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 2004 Constitution and the 2008 Education Law include children with different language backgrounds, children with disabilities, gifted and talented students, girls and nomadic children.
Article 46 of the 2004 Constitution 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.’ That said, according to the 2008 Afghanistan report submitted for the 48th session of the International Conference on Education, ‘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 flexible 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.’
Special schools receive support from a number of international and local non-government organizations and UN agencies. The Kabul Blind School is the only government school exclusively for blind children in Afghanistan. Schools for the Deaf are located in Jalalabad and Kabul. However, the majority of children with visual impairment who attend 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 for children, youth and adults with disabilities have been established throughout Afghanistan with support from international and national non-government organizations, including the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan. Community-based rehabilitation is a strategy within community development for the rehabilitation, equalization of opportunities and social integration of people with disabilities. 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 in 13 different provinces.
Despite these efforts, according to Accessibility Organizations for Afghan Disabled, 95% of children with disabilities in Afghanistan do not attend schools due to inaccessible environments.
Afghanistan ratified the Convention against Discrimination in Education in 2010. The Constitution 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’ (Art. 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, and national and local languages. Moreover, Article 22 of the Constitution states that ‘any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan is forbidden.’ The 2008 Education Law aims to ensure equal rights of education and training for citizens ‘through promotion and development of universal, balanced and equitable education.’
The 2017–21 National Education Strategic Plan forms the framework for implementation of the Education Law (2008). It includes strategies directed at learners with special needs, internally displaced persons, 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 still not implemented in 2018) which aims to establish resource centres and support units at provincial and district level to progressively implement inclusive education. In parallel, the 2013 National Literacy Strategy aimed 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 this end, people with physical disabilities were to 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 in 2012. Moreover, Article 53 of the Constitution affirms that the State shall ‘adopt necessary measures ... for reintegration of the disabled and handicapped persons and their active participation in society.’ The non-government organizations 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 Afghanistan to train teachers in inclusive education and has asked for the organization's 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 in 2003. Thus, Article 44 of the 2004 Constitution adds that the ‘state shall devise and implement effective programs to create and foster balanced education for women’ and Article 22 states that ‘the citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.’ The 2008 Education Law also aims to support the protection of women's rights and the elimination of discrimination of every kind. In this respect, the 2009 Law on Elimination of Violence Against Women provides under Article 35 that ‘if a person prohibits a woman from the right of education … , considering the circumstance the offender shall be sentenced to short term imprisonment’.
The 2007–17 National Action Plan for the Women of Afghanistan 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. 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, the 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 2013–18 National Technical and Vocational Education and Training Strategy.
An accelerated learning programme offers a community-based ‘fast-track’ route for out-of-school and overage (ages 10 to 15) girls to complete their primary education (up to grade 6). Thus, some 3,000 women aged 10 to 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 another key measure implemented in Afghanistan to support girls’ right to education. 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 country's education programmes have a strong gender component.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
Article 43 of the Constitution 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 2008 Education Law states that teaching in ‘public educational institutions, ... national private educational institutions and educational and training programs and centers for literacy and basic practical education, shall be taught in one of the state official languages.’ In fact, the language of teaching is to 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. 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 the Pashto and Dari languages in schools and educational institutions is compulsory.
The Ministry of Education’s 2014 Inclusive and Child Friendly Education Policy has identified children from language minorities as vulnerable to marginalization and 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 spoken in Afghanistan and many children therefore are not taught in their mother tongue.
People living in rural or remote areas and nomads
Since 2006, policy and guidelines for community-based education 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 homes, mosques and community centres in small rural villages (MOE and UNESCO, 2009). Moreover, Article 44 of the Constitution 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 2008 Poverty Reduction Strategy. 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 was conducted to provide the basis for discussion and planning.
The 2013 National Policy on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) charges the Ministry of Education with ensuring that primary and secondary education are 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, as well as support for IDP teachers, expansion of classes, and teaching and teaching materials in areas of displacement. The Ministry of Education is also committed to building new schools and 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; Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled; Hajj and Religious Affairs; Women’s Affairs; and Rural Rehabilitation and Development all provide support to 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 IECWG, conducted a Needs and Rights Assessment on Inclusive Education in 2008 and made recommendations for initial moves toward inclusive education in Afghanistan, with a detailed five-year plan of action.
Finally, the 2017–21 education strategic plan stipulates that the responsibility for a common set of inclusive education outcomes will be jointly assumed by the Ministry of Education and partners, development partners, NGOs and civil society.
Article 7 of the Education Act states that the State shall equip public schools for outstanding, gifted and talented students and students with special needs. In this regard, the 2017–21 education strategic plan recognizes the importance of coordinating decentralized responsibilities to all ministries cooperating on the provision of education at province and district levels; therefore, Community Development Councils are also involved in the construction of schools through community contracts. The Plan also aims to expand the provision of schools with dormitories for students, especially girls, from insecure, underdeveloped and underprivileged districts.
Article 45 of the 2004 Constitution stipulates that ‘the state shall devise and implement a 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.’ A curriculum reform process was initiated in 2016. The curriculum reform strongly considered gender aspects and human rights as crosscutting issues. The 2009 document Needs and Rights Assessment: Inclusive Education in Afghanistan 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.’ 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.’
Learning materials and ICT
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 those languages. The 2017–21 education strategic plan 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 internet connectivity. In 2009, 580 students at Isteqlal High School in Jalalabad received XO laptops. This programme facilitated inclusiveness and improved learning achievement of all students, including children with disabilities and others children vulnerable to exclusion from and within education.
Children with visual impairment are not able to take their exams in Braille as there is no centralized 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, Embracing Diversity – Toolkit for Creating Inclusive, Learning-Friendly Environment (developed by UNESCO) has been translated into Dari and Pashto.
The 2017–21 education strategic plan covers all teachers, male and female. Because different genders have differential access to training opportunities, the Ministry of Education aims to monitor regularly how female teachers integrate into 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 and special security provisions) to encourage qualified female teachers from urban areas to relocate to underserved 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 female students in education, and the percentage of women in teaching and non-teaching positions, including policy and decision making.
That said, in 2009 (and today), there was no data related to children with ADHD/ADD, autism, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple impairments, developmental impairment or deaf-blindness, or those suffering from neglect, abandonment and abuse. 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, nor is there 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 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.