Illustration by Shenuka Corea

NYU Kabul

In the face of mounting danger, some exhibit an utmost commitment to the future of a nation.

Feb 4, 2018

If the most recent bombings in Kabul tell anything of the internationally affiliated aid workers and researchers working in Afghanistan’s capital, it is that in the face of mounting danger, some exhibit an utmost commitment to the future of a nation.
In Dec. 2017, principal investigator and New York University professor Dana Burde along with co-principal investigators professors Joel Middleton of University of California Berkeley and Cyrus Samii of NYUNY concluded phase two of their Assessment of Learning Outcomes and Social Effects of Community-Based Education project. The research effort, known commonly as ALSE, aims to “understand the best ways to create effective and sustainable community based education in Afghanistan” in cooperation with the nongovernmental organizations CARE and CRS, the Education Ministry of Afghanistan, and the funding of United States Agency for International Development.
Based out of New York and Kabul, the ALSE project is an effort to both improve local schooling in Afghanistan with their partners and study the effectiveness of these public policy initiatives. However, in pursuing educational advancement in Afghanistan, the ALSE team has some significant obstacles to success.
“Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, education has been one of the top priorities of the Afghan government and the international development community. Significant strides have been made to increase access; the number of children in school has increased from 0.9 million in 2001 to more than 9.2 million in 2015. Even with this increase, there is still an estimated 3.7 million children ages 7-17 still out of school, the majority of which are girls,” stated the ALSE team in comment to the Gazelle.
Keeping the challenges facing Afghanistan in mind, ALSE concluded its first phase of policy research in 2015. Looking at schools run by NGOs in the provinces of Bamiyan, Daykundi, Ghor, Herat, Kapisa and Parwan, the ALSE team was able to make several actionable conclusions about community based education in the region after studying villages who introduced CBE schools.
Perhaps the most salient of ALSE’s results was how community-based education programs increased school attendance in villages where the CBE efforts were active. In the provinces studied, CBE increased girls school attendance by 16 percent and boys school attendance by 11.7 percent, almost eliminating the educational gender gap. CBE also increased average test scores in reading and math by an order of .30 standard deviations for girls and .27 standard deviations for boys, reinforcing the value of the schooling.
Baseline survey results from phase one also showed insights that dispelled misconceptions of rural Afghanistan sometimes held by those in the West. Foremost among these was that parents overwhelmingly do want to send their children to school with 99.1 percent stating that schooling is consistent with Islam and 97.3 percent of parents believing that sending girls to school is consistent with Islam. In fact, the CBE is successful not because it is changing parents’ attitudes so much as it is filling a crucial factor in educational attainment: distance. ALSE found that children's school enrollment in Afghanistan decreases by 16 percent for every additional mile of walking and the CBE was helping to fill this literal distance to achieving education.
The final major set of conclusions from ALSE’s first phase was in relation to the conflict of the region. Burde and team found that while CBE classes were less likely to be targeted by the Taliban because they were less associated with the Afghan state, the classes did serve to increase legitimacy of the Afghan government, schools, teachers and the NGOs themselves.
Looking to the future, ALSE is set to publish its phase two results soon. With the handover of 69 randomonly assigned village CBE systems to community-level institutions from their previous NGO stewarts, ALSE will be testing the long-term sustainability and effects of CBE in villages where it is initially introduced by NGOs. This study will be in line with the Afghan Ministry of Education’s promotion of the Citizen Charter Framework, which encourages the decentralization of the Afghan education system.
ALSE is also seeking to continue its capacity building efforts within the Afghan bureaucracy going forward, training the next generation of policy analysts and bureaucrats in promulgating educational advancement.
Thomas Klein is Editor-in-Chief. Email him at feedback@thegazelle.org.
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