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Last Updated: Monday, 9 April 2007, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Afghan schools' money problems
By Aunohita Mojumdar

The return of five million Afghan children to school is one of the major success stories of post-conflict reconstruction in the country.

Girls at the circus
Girls are more likely to be kept away from school than boys

The figure is cited by the government and the donor community as one of the landmark achievements in a difficult process of rebuilding.

One person for whom the figure remains a source of concern, however, is Afghanistan's Education Minister Hanif Atmar.

"It is the greatest achievement in the history of this country" he says. "However, at best it represents 50-55% of our school-age children."

Ahead of Afghanistan's national budget, Mr Atmar expressed concern that, despite the major challenges ahead, funding for education funding will fall far short of what is needed.

"We will get 24% of what we asked for in the development budget," he predicted.

Planning problems

Most of the donor funding continues to be routed outside the government.

Children near a mountain
The educational infrastructure is worse in rural areas

Donors often cite a lack of capacity in government departments to spend the money. They also argue that a lot of money given to the government gets siphoned off by corrupt officials.

The lack of funding through the government creates problems in forward planning.

"The ministry has no clear idea of how much money it is going to get from the external budget at the time of making annual plans because donor funding cycles are often different to the Afghan financial year," says a senior adviser to Mr Atmar.

"Multi-year funding would solve a part of this problem, but right now this is not happening.

"Although we now have a five-year strategy, it is difficult to plan implementation of programmes if we don't know there will be money to support it," the adviser says.

Mr Atmar argues that money spent on education by organisations other than the education ministry is largely wasted, with much of it being eaten away by overheads.

This is a contention supported by many donors.

The UK's Department For International Development (Dfid) estimates that the money given to the government and spent directly by it is eight times more productive than when spent by outside agencies.

Dfid itself routes more than 70% of its aid through the government.

Afghanistan's largest donor, USAid, spends only 7% of its annual budget through the government.

Spending money outside the government "undermines the state rebuilding project", says Mr Atmar, and "the state loses legitimacy".

"We have been invested with the responsibility to develop a sound strategy by the people of this country but we do not have the resources to implement it," he says.

'Decent space'

The strategy spelt out by Mr Atmar has many challenges.

Girl at work
Girls often lack women teachers as role models

According to the minister, only 40% of school children have "a decent space" to study.

The remaining 60% are in tents or dilapidated structures.

That has a particularly strong impact on the enrolment of girls as parents often want them to study in a more protective and sheltered area.

The problem enrolling of girls is further compounded by the lack of women teachers.

According to the international aid agency Oxfam, only about one quarter of the teachers in Afghanistan are women.

In many conservative parts of the country parents will not send their girls to school unless there are women teachers.

While at primary level there is one girl student for every two boys, this ratio drops to one girl for every five to six boys at secondary level.

Of the 143,000 school teachers on the government's payroll, 80% are not qualified, says Mr Atmar.

In the next five years, he hopes to increase the number of women teachers to 50% of the workforce.

He also wants to make sure that least 70% of the teachers pass competency tests by going through teacher training centres that he hopes to establish in the provinces.

The education ministry is also currently in the process of writing and printing text books for the secondary level curriculum, all of which costs money.

"We are trying to persuade donors to support the national budget or at least programmes under the national education strategy and not implement their own programmes," says the minister's adviser.

"In a 'post-conflict' situation such as in Afghanistan, it is important that the state takes on the responsibility to provide access to basic rights such as education as part of the state-building exercise, unlike under 'normal' development situations where the private sector can play a major role," he says.

"Some donors are now routing more of their money through the national budget which is encouraging, but it is still a fraction and not sufficient considering the needs."

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