In my country of Afghanistan, opportunity is limited and hope for the future impossible for many families to imagine. At the root of the problem is the state of education. More than six out of every ten people in Afghanistan cannot read or write. Nearly four million children are out of school, and more than three quarters of all children who are getting their education, drop out by the ninth grade.
This actually represents progress compared to ten years ago. During the many years Afghanistan was embroiled in war, there was virtually no way to improve education. Now we have the opportunity to change our education system.
Millions of Afghans know that without education, they have simply no hope for the future. The Afghan people’s ability to shape a more sophisticated economy, and a country in which war and terrorism are not tolerated, is dependent on the education system.
While foreign aid dollars can provide meaningful support, local communities will ultimately have to produce and support the leaders of tomorrow. These leaders will need to help counter the twisted appeals of terrorist recruiters, find ways for communities to prosper and offer more Afghans the promise of a better life for their children.
Educating children is the best way to eradicate extremism in my country. It is why I launched Teach For Afghanistan, a programme that is part of the Teach For All network and adapts the approach of Teach For America and TeachFirst UK here in Nangarhar Province along the Pakistani border.
Afghanistan has the youngest population in the world — I believe that it could be our greatest asset. But too many Afghan students who complete higher education choose not to return to their homes and work for a better future for our country. Through Teach For Afghanistan, we provide a supportive pathway for young graduates, while also helping to bring motivated new teachers into our overcrowded classrooms.
There are 43 similar programmes around the world, including in the U.S., the UK, India, Malaysia, Peru and Bulgaria. Roughly 70% of young people who finish the programmes continue working to improve education for disadvantaged children in some way, even if that was not their original career path.
I’m hopeful that, over time, our programme can help produce and inspire a new generation of collective leadership not just in communities in Nangarhar, but all across Afghanistan — leadership that is singularly committed to creating a future of opportunity and promise for each and every child.
Claiming that education is the answer might sound like a cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less true. If our future is to improve, today’s children must learn to read. They must learn to write. They must learn to question dominant ways of thinking. They must learn that no child is inherently worth more than another. If we can start down that journey today, we can all have hope for tomorrow.
Rahmatullah Arman and his work with Teach for Afghanistan is supported by Malala Fund’s Gulmakai Network — an initiative that invests in the work of education activists in developing countries.