Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan

Country Profile: Afghanistan


30,552,000 (2013)

Official Languages

Dari, Pashto

Youth literacy rate (15 – 24 years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 46.33%
Male: 69.59%
Both sexes: 58.21%

Adult literacy rate (15+ years, 2015, UIS estimation)

Female: 24.15%
Male: 51.99%
Both sexes: 38.16%

Statistical sources

UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

Programme Overview

Programme TitleEnhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA)
Implementing OrganizationAfghan Ministry of Education (through the Literacy Department) and UNESCO
Language of InstructionDari and Pashto
Programme PartnersGovernment of Japan
Date of Inception2008–2013

Context and Background

Although the Afghan constitution (in particular sections 13, 14 and 44) obliges the government to provide equal access to basic education to all citizens in order to promote development, efforts in this endeavour have been hampered by numerous challenges. In particular, the country has experienced a continuous pattern of violent armed conflict since the early 1970s which has precluded development, intensified poverty and caused widespread destruction of educational infrastructure, displacement of people and emigration of professional educators from the country, all of which have undermined governmental efforts to universalise the provision of education. Efforts to universalise access to quality basic education have also been hampered by poor public funding of education, entrenched socio-cultural practices such as child labour and early marriages and intense opposition to secular education from ultra-conservative Islamists. As a result, many Afghans have been deprived of their right to basic education as manifested not only by the prevailing low primary and secondary school enrolment and completion rates (see above) but also by the low literacy rates among youths (34,3 per cent) and adults (29 per cent). The situation is particularly dire for rural inhabitants and for females, with reports suggesting that only about eight per cent of Afghan women are literate. Regrettably, the lack of educational opportunities and the resultant high illiteracy rates and lack of livelihood opportunities among the majority of Afghanistan’s citizens have been identified as being among the major causes of underdevelopment and the vicious cycles of conflict that have afflicted the country and beyond since the early 1970s. Hence, in an effort to address these challenges, and in particular to combat the scourge of illiteracy and promote sustainable development and peace in the country, the government of Afghanistan and UNESCO initiated the Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA) programme in 2008.

The Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA) Programme

The ELA programme is an extensive and integrated literacy education and vocational skills training programme which, as noted above, was instituted in 2008 by the Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE, through the Literacy Department) with technical and financial support from UNESCO and the government of Japan. The ELA programme is currently being implemented in 18 provinces (comprising a total of 94 districts) within the context of the Afghan National Education Strategic Plan (NESP, 2006–2010) which aims to rehabilitate and develop the national education system as well as UNESCO’s Life Initiative for Empowerment (LIFE) programme which aims to improve literacy and living standards in Afghanistan. The five-year programme (2008 to 2013) aims to provide quality literacy education to 600,000 youths and adults (60 per cent of whom will be women) as well as vocational skills training and income-generating opportunities to participants who successfully complete the literacy training component of the programme.

The ELA programme primarily targets illiterate and semi-literate youths and adults (aged 15 years and above) from socio-economically disadvantaged and often remote communities, primarily because they have been disproportionately deprived of basic educational opportunities and therefore constitute the population segment with the highest illiteracy and poverty rates in the country. Similarly, because the literacy rate among women is only 13 per cent and because women are particularly disadvantaged within Afghan society, the ELA programme aims to enable especially women to have greater access to educational opportunities in order to facilitate their empowerment.

As emphasised below, the fundamental goal of the ELA programme is not only to combat the scourge of illiteracy among socio-economically disadvantaged groups but also to promote sustainable development and peace in Afghanistan. To this end, the ELA programme emphasises the following principal and integrated areas of study:

Aims and Objectives

The adoption of such an integrated curriculum is primarily intended to allow the programme to cater for the diverse needs of learners and their communities in order to enable them to improve their living standards as well as to promote development and peace in Afghanistan. More specifically, the ELA programme endeavours to:

Over and above these primary objectives, the ELA programme also aims to build up the institutional and human capacities of the Literacy Department of the Afghan Ministry of Education so that literacy education will be sustained within the country after the completion of the programme.

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Development of Teaching-Learning Materials

In order to facilitate the efficient and sustainable implementation of the ELA programme, the MoE’s Literacy Department with technical support from various stakeholders has developed and produced various literacy teaching-learning materials for use by programme participants.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

As noted above, the acute shortage of educational infrastructure and professional educators constitutes one of the main challenges inhibiting the universalisation of basic education in Afghanistan. In order to address these challenges as well as to ensure sustainable and efficient implementation of the ELA programme, the MoE and UNESCO have, with active support from the local Community Development Councils (CDCs), established community-based literacy centres (CLCs) and recruited about 2,000 community-based volunteers to act as programme facilitators or trainers. Since a majority of these volunteers are primary-school graduates with little or no experience in non-formal educational practices, the MoE and UNESCO provide them with formal induction / pre-service and ongoing in-service professional training or mentoring in various aspects of non-formal education, including:

After being trained, facilitators are obliged to provide training services to an average of 25 learners as well as to assist the programme implementers and the CDCs to mobilise and recruit potential learners into the programme, encourage ordinary community members to support the programme and to manage the CLCs. Each facilitator is paid a stipend of US$88 per month for these services.

Recruitment of Learners

As with other non-formal educational programmes, the selection criteria for the enrolment or recruitment of learners into the ELA programme are generally flexible and as such, the learners’ prior learning and levels of literacy are rarely considered given that the fundamental aim of the programme is to create learning opportunities for the less privileged and illiterate. In general however, potential learners must:

Teaching-Learning Approaches and Methods

ELA programme learners are obliged to attend basic and post- or functional literacy classes for six and three months respectively. Learners who excel at these initial literacy training stages are selected and encouraged to attend vocational skills development classes, after which they are provided with microcredit and income-generating facilities. In both situations, the training of learners is predominantly based on learner-centred participatory teaching-learning methods, including group discussions; question and answer; role play and demonstrations.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Monitoring and Evaluation

The ELA programme is monitored and evaluated an ongoing basis by internal (i.e. by officers from the MoE and UNESCO) and external professionals in order to ensure its effective and efficient implementation. With regard to the former, professional teams from the MoE and UNESCO undertake monthly field visits during which they consult with facilitators, members of the CDCs and district and provincial staff to establish the strengths, weaknesses and impacts of the programme. These consultative visits are also used to map mechanisms of improving the programme. Apart from this, the learners’ learning achievements are continuously assessed by facilitators through a series of tests. External professional consultants have also been engaged to evaluate the ELA programme.


The evaluation studies that have been undertaken to date indicate that the ELA programme has made some positive and indeed lasting contributions towards creation of literate environments, community development, poverty alleviation, social empowerment, peace-building and rehabilitation of war-torn communities. More specifically, the major impacts of the ELA programme include


Although ELA is being supported by the State, the government of Japan and UNESCO, its full and effective implementation has been impeded by an intense opposition from ultra-conservative Islamists; critical shortages of financial, material and human resources as well as by the prevailing state of insecurity in the country. With regard to the latter, it has been difficult for professional teams and field facilitators to venture deep into the rural areas due to fear of being abducted and killed by the armed groups who oppose the ‘imposition’ of ‘European-style’ education in Afghanistan. Programme participants, especially women, have often been targeted and killed by insurgent groups, thereby discouraging others from enrolling in the programme. The acute shortage of female facilitators has also hampered the participation of women because female classes can only be taught by female educators.

Furthermore, constraints of financial and material resources have also been exacerbated by the fact that the ELA programme is by far the largest and perhaps somewhat over-ambitious literacy interventions in Afghanistan. It has been observed, for example, that it is practically impossible to train 600,000 illiterate people over five years in a country as poor and insecure as Afghanistan. In light of these challenges, some analysts argue that the training provided to learners fails to effectively equip them with sufficient skills.



Maryester Gonzalez
ELA Programme Coordinator,
No. 647, Shar-e-Naw, Kabul,
Phone: +93 799 064986
Email: m.gonzalez-rojas (at) unesco.org
Website: http://www.unesco.org/kabul

Last update: 12 November 2013