Aga Khan Education Service, Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, AKES programmes serve nearly 25,000 students and operate 70 Early Childhood Development (ECD) along with 50 English, 18 ICT and 20 Supplementary Education centres.

These various programmes operate in 15 districts across six provinces within Afghanistan which enable students to develop English Language and Information Technology skills, thereby equipping students with the necessary foundation upon which to access higher education and further develop technical skills.

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Like their brothers and sisters in other countries, Afghan teachers and students from Aga Khan early childhood, English and even technology programs selected short passages from their textbooks, novels and story books to read aloud to read to their peers.  And, like their brothers and sisters across the world, those peers listened with interest.  Although this activity may not be uncommon in educational settings, in Afghanistan, the event marks the importance and joy of being able to read out loud and being listened to in a country with lowest literacy rates in the world. 

Photo captions (top to bottom):
ECD students listening to their teacher
ECD students and teachers holding up the books that have been read out loud
English students listening to their classmates
ICT students listening to their teacher

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ICDL is the world’s leading end-user computer skills certification and is one of the most valued across the government, international NGOs and private sectors as an international benchmark that has significantly improved the quality of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) programmes in the region.

Since its establishment in 2003, AKES, Afghanistan (AKES, A) has been providing various non-formal education programmes, including ICT for school going children and job-seeking youth. The ICDL programme was later introduced in 2011, and in 2013, the University of Central Asia (UCA) collaborated with AKES, A to certify seven ICT teachers based on ICDL modules in Khorog, Tajikistan. To date, 43 ICT staff have been ICDL certified in Afghanistan.

In 2018, AKES, A became an accredited ICDL testing and learning centre and currently conducts ICDL certification tests across four provinces (Kabul, Baghlan, Balkh & Badakhshan) of Afghanistan. Prior to this, AKES, A had also been facilitating ICDL tests in Taymani, Chahar Qala, Pull-e-Khumri, Noor-e-Khuda, Ishkashim & Zeebak regions through an agreement with the ICDL of Afghanistan signed in 2015. The accreditation of these centres creates opportunities for many learners to improve the quality of teaching and learning.

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AKES’ ECD programme in Afghanistan had incorporated reading activities for children up to six years of age. In these activities, teachers would select stories to be read in both English and Dari languages.

As a result of these activities, the children’s interest in reading books increased dramatically. However, this was only possible within the ECD classes as children did not have access to books at home. To address this critical need, AKES decided to develop this programme further so that children could gain increased access to education.

To achieve this goal, AKES India invited 5 AKES Afghanistan ECD officers for training. During this trip, the officers gained exposure to the ECD centers in India and learned the scientifically effective Reading for Children (RfC) approach, which had been implemented in ECD centers in Gujarat. Through RfC, the skills and knowledge of the ECD teachers were enhanced in storytelling, as well as in developing story books for children through the use of illustrations. Additionally, these teachers supported parents and shared key techniques on storytelling for children.

Today, AKES Afghanistan has applied this learning within their ECD programme. 

The RfC approach aided AKES to implement the following: using local resources in developing books, that make books interesting and culturally relevant for children and parents, developing tools to monitor the usage of books, ensuring the children’s choice is priority in selecting books, and setting up a mini library for parents and children. 
A pilot revised programme was launched at 5 ECD centers in the country for one year and in Parental Education Classes in the ECD programme, so that parents could learn how to help their children read better from home.

At the end of the year, AKES carried out a research assessment on the programme. The results concluded that RfC exponentially improved the participating children's’ linguistic, emotional, social and recognition skills, cultivating interest and curiosity in reading, increased parental involvement and communication and an enhanced vocabulary. Overall, the programme has developed a positive social atmosphere between children and helped gauge the children’s abilities, talents, learning methods, and interests.

From this pilot, AKES launched and implemented the RfC approach across 71 ECD centers in the country. In all the centers, there are an outstanding amount of 6000 storybooks available, with over 1650 mothers registered as RfC members.

As a result, RfC has increased the interest in the ECD programme among children and mothers. Through this innovative programme, AKES was able to transfer part of ECD activities into homes and cultivate a reading culture in the community from a young age, making this one of AKES, Afghanistan’s most successful programmes. 

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Gulsaman is one of the mothers who advanced through this training, having joined the programme shortly after it launched in the Balkh Province of Afghanistan.

For women like Gulsaman, obtaining a good education has been challenging. Growing up during the civil war, Gulsaman was unable to go to school due to a variety of challenges, including safety and access to quality education. In her adult years, as a mother, she felt the absence of literacy skills in her day to day life: "Being illiterate was very difficult for me. I always had a desire to learn and felt terrible not being able to read or write." Despite her struggles, Gulsaman was determined to educate herself. 

In 2009, AKES, A launched the Mother Literacy Programme (MLP) in conjunction with an Early Childhood Development (ECD) Programme. ECD Caregivers were taught literacy, numeracy and health skills to enhance the ECD classes and foster holistic growth for young learners. By providing caregivers with foundational educational skills, MLP also enabled them to succeed in continuing education, learning essential skills that would benefit them in their personal development and career growth as caregivers. "I was excited to join the Mother Literacy Programme. It was a difficult decision to make at such a late age, but the desire to learn was alive in my heart," explained Gulsaman.

After completing the programme, Gulsaman joined a local school to continue her education. Today, Gulsaman has advanced to Grade 11 and is planning on joining AKES, A’s English Programme in order to continue her educational success. Reflecting on her experience, Gulsaman said: "With the help of AKES teachers, I have learned to read and write, and improved steadily through these programmes. I am proud to be literate, and I hope to continue my studies with the aim of becoming a teacher in the future."

In Afghanistan, AKES programmes reach close to 25,000 students. Currently, it operates more than 70 early childhood development centres.  It also works in selected districts including Kabul to develop skills in English Language, Computer Programming, and Science & Mathematics. Adapting to local needs, MLP was reshaped into the Parental Education Project. The Project teaches primary caregivers about the child developmental process, health awareness, numeracy and language literacy development.

Written by: Hafizullah Momin

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This rapid growth began eight years ago when 300 children engaged in six community-based learning Centres (CBLC), in an effort to support children’s transition to primary school. 

To address these challenges effectively, AKES conducted a series of trainings and workshops with ECD teachers, parents, children, and primary school teachers.  It also designed a monitoring and evaluation tool -- in collaboration with teachers and parents -- to help assess and address a child’s readiness for primary school. The programme also introduced regular visits by children and parents to the primary schools to learn more about their new environment.   

This collaborative approach has helped over 3,000 children -- almost half of them girls -- successfully transition to primary schools. 

In Afghanistan, AKES programmes reach close to 25,000 students. In addition to childhood development centres, AKES in Afghanistan also works in selected districts, including Kabul, to develop skills in English Language and Information Technology that is specially focused on developing employable skills for out-of-school children. It also assists school-going children with tutorial assistance programmes.

Written by: Najeebullah Musafirzada

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