The daunting task of educating Afghanistan

Private universities are cropping up to meet the increasing Afghan hunger for university education.

The daunting task of educating Afghanistan

World Bulletin / News Desk

 Afghan authorities announced on Tuesday that more than 130,000 students, a third of them female, had passed exams to enter university in the upcoming academic year, bringing into focus Afghanistan's challenge to rebuild its education system. 

The once heavily centralized public education system is now witnessing a new development; that of private colleges and universities with various specializations that have sprung up in major urban centers, including the capital Kabul, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif and Kandahar.

With state institutions struggling to cope with increasing demand, private universities have filled a gap for the growing number of students gaining the marks required in the "Kankoor" admission test that allows them to study for subjects like medicine and engineering. 

Usman Babari, the Interim Minister for Higher Education said while announcing the “Kankoor" results that state facilities cannot entertain all of the successful candidates.

“Out of the successful candidates, 92,000 students will be given admission in state universities and institutions for higher and bachelor level studies while around 40,000 students will be referred to the private sector,” he said.

In the eyes of education specialist Siddiq Patman, former deputy education minister, Afghanistan desperately needs to reform its education system. 

“Our Ministry of Education is working on an over hundred-year-old system and the Kankoor test itself is a 50-year-old outdated idea,” said Patman.

He argued that the test was originally designed for dealing with only 1,000 higher education candidates five decades ago, while now more than 300,000 take the test.

“There is an absolute need for reforms, I propose two tests, one for the 9th grade students and the other for the 12th grade students and the tests should be conducted by an independent board not the Ministry of Education directly,” he said.

As far as the private sector is concerned, more and more brands offering students a "promising future" are emerging. On Thursday, a first of its kind grand three-day educational exhibition concluded in the Afghan capital saw more than 50 private institutions promoting themselves in front of young Afghan students.  

Aziz Barakzai, the organizer of the exhibition asserted that the main purpose of the show was to promote the culture of education. “The students have shown a great interest, we plan to continue these exhibitions in the future,” he said.

A number of visiting students raised questions however, about the fee structure, academic year and quality of education offered by the private sector.

“It just seems like all they bother about is money, nobody cares about our future and the country,” a 12th grade student remarked.

Haseeb Arya, a representative of the Kaardan Univesity, the first and the oldest private university in Afghanistan, founded in 2002, admitted that “some black sheep” have hampered the image of private sector.

 Arya said experienced and qualified faculty members are hard to find in Afghanistan and that half of their own staff were from abroad, largely from Pakistan. 

Many students also go abroad to study, with India being one of the preferred destinations. A representative of the U.S.-funded Fulbright Program said India relaxes its visa regime for Afghans while the limited number of spaces on exchange programs in the U.S. often leaves students disappointed. 

Patman, the former education official, remains apprehensive on the "mushrooming" of private institutions.   

“There have been many instances when students failed in the Kankoor test and have been given admission in sensitive subjects like medicine and ultimately being awarded with degrees,” he claimed, adding that he believed having lots of people with "fake degrees" is more dangerous than having less university students.

Last Mod: 20 Mart 2015, 10:25
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