GAB is delighted to welcome back Mark Pyman, Senior Fellow at the London Institute for Statecraft, who also served as Commissioner of the Afghanistan Joint Independent Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee until November 27, 2017.
One of the successes of the last fifteen years in Afghanistan has been the rise in the numbers of students attending school, especially girls. According to the Afghan Ministry of Education, more than 9.2 million children, 39% of them girls, are now enrolled in school (though these statistics continue to be disputed, with alternative enrollment estimates ranging between 6 and 10 million). Yet the Afghan government, the citizenry, and external observers are all well aware that the education system remains beset by endemic corruption. As one parent put it in a focus group discussion: “A suicide attack isn’t the most dangerous thing for us, because a few people will die…. It is the unprofessional and unknowledgeable teachers that are most dangerous for us because they kill the future of Afghanistan.”
A major new report from the Afghanistan Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (known as MEC), carried out at the request of the Minister of Education, evaluates the corruption vulnerabilities across the education system and how they need to be addressed. The study, conducted in cooperation with the Education Ministry, visited 138 schools in nine provinces, and conducted over 500 interviews with a range of stakeholders (including Ministry officials, provincial education officials, teachers, parents, students, and others), as well as 160 focus group discussions. These interviews and focus group discussions assessed a broad range of education corruption issues, including both corruption that arises at the level of schools and districts (such as students paying for advance copies of papers, or teachers using nepotistic influence to avoid having to turn up) and corruption in central government education policy and management (such as corruption in teacher appointments, school construction, and textbook procurement). Some of the report’s main findings are as follows:
- Although many teachers and newly qualified graduates are keen to do a good job and serve their country, unfortunately teachers are often appointed on the basis of influence, nepotism, and bribery rather than merit (which in turn leads to very high levels of teacher unemployment, with some 75% of Teacher Training College Graduates are unable to find work). There are widespread related problems, such as a corruption of the testing procedure and teachers paying to stay on beyond retirement age. MEC concluded that this issue–corruption in teacher appointments–is the most serious threat to the education of students.
- The school curriculum is far too ambitious, making it impossible for most teachers to teach the required material to students in the time available. While this might not immediately seem like a corruption problem, in fact it is, because teachers and students feel pressure to resort to dishonest methods to get the students through their exams.
- The Education Ministry is so large that is almost unmanageable, with over 262,000 staff (comprising 68% of the total civilian staff of the Afghan government). Corruption flourishes in such a sprawling department.
- There are inadequate controls in place to prevent misappropriation of resources in the education sector. Salaries continue to be paid in cash in most provinces, which increases the risk of corruption. There is also evidence that students across the country are compelled to buy their own textbooks, which are meant to be free. And inadequate procurement procedures in the education sector, as elsewhere, foster corruption and cause important construction projects to lag behind, or languish unfinished for years.
- There needs to be routine, independent inspection of the quality of education in the schools. At present school quality inspection is ineffective and not independent.
Despite the highly critical assessment, the report has been well received by the Ministry and by the government leadership. This is a hopeful sign that Afghanistan is taking this problem seriously, and shares the view nicely articulated by an Afghan research officer at one of the major NGOs in Kabul: “We can change Afghanistan by a good education system; not by bombs, soldiers and tanks.”