The failure to mobilize the human resources necessary to bring the message of nation-building to the population was more important than other small glitches in the production and distribution of teaching material. Although exact figures are hard to come by, it was obvious in the years after 2001 the most trained teachers in the country failed to go back to teaching; indeed even an estimated 70 percent of newly trained teachers went for jobs outside education. While there might several reasons, the main one was clearly the low salaries. In 2002, the salary of a teacher was fixed at USD 41 as a result of the financial constraints deriving from the massive hiring plans. That was acknowledged as being far too low and from the beginning the Ministry of Education (MoE) had plans to double it to USD 80. By 2006-7 the average salary paid to teachers still had not reached the planned level and stood at USD 74 after a recent pay rise and including a food allowance, despite strong inflationary trends which meant that even USD 80 would not represent a decent living salary to a teacher anymore. In 2009, the salary was brought up to USD 100, still not enough to catch up with inflation. The fact that the modest salaries were often paid months late contributed to the demoralization of teachers.
The delay in raising salaries were largely due to the MoE’s failure to assess the teachers’ qualifications and therefore obtain from donors the funds needed to offer higher salaries to selected number of them. Teachers in general resisted being assessed and the MoE did not try too hard. This failure was likely due to the need to protect the patronage networks created after 2001 within the MoE. In the absence of any assessment, it became also impossible to set up an effective program of in-service (on the job) training for teachers. Efforts funded by USAID to do in-service training started only in 2007 and have not proceeded very far yet; only 11 provinces have been affected up to this point and without too much impact. One analyst working for international organization commented that USAID officials planning the program lacked awareness of the huge variations in the quality of the teachers and they proceeded to implement a standard template, as if they had been dealing with a much developed country. The MoE contributed to bringing the program to a standstill because of its reluctance to admit that 10 – 20 percent were very poorly qualified. The politically hard decision of determining which teachers were actually trainable cost a lot in terms of missed chances to improve the skills of the teachers.
Only in June 2009, the government announced plans to raise the salary of qualified teachers to USD 400; it is not clear whether it has the means for paying the higher salaries. The salary of teachers per se were not the only problem, as external intervention and the large-scale reconstruction efforts had impacted greatly on the salary scales in Afghanistan, given the shortage of educated people.
Maintaining a ‘clean’ payroll also appears to have been too much of a challenge: in 2006, a source noted that ‘between 16000 to 20000 teachers are estimated to be ghost employees’, including ‘teachers who do not turn up the work, who only collect their salaries, and/or teachers who collect more than one salary as they are registered more than once’. The cost of ghost teachers was estimated at USD 12 million per month.
The low quality of the teachers came to be recognized as a major problem relatively early. Under pressure from its foreign advisers and donors, the MoE agreed to indirectly assess the capacity and skills of the teachers by asking them to fill administrative forms which were designed to function as tests as well. The results were not publicized, but according to an adviser, a ‘significant number’ of teachers turned out to be illiterate.
The MoE’s focus on the easier measurables (number of schools, quantity of equipment distributed, number of teachers hired) and its reluctance to measure the quality of service delivered suggest that the effort was mainly to please the external donors by showing off positive statistics, rather than to strengthen the Afghan state or even the elite in power. The school-building effort might have looked impressive, but many of the schools being built only had two or three rooms and no room for the administration or the principal; however, in the statistics, they still counted as schools built. Donors themselves often contributed to assembling an acceptable facade of success in order to respond to the political priorities of the moment.
An excerpt from ‘Nation-Building Is Not For All’, by Dr. Antonio Giustozzi
- The Taliban’s plans, 1996 – 2001 (ehsanblogs.wordpress.com)
- Opposition to state education in Afghanistan after 2001 – part 2 (ehsanblogs.wordpress.com)
- 700 headteachers earning above £100,000 (independent.co.uk)
- Teacher numbers fall by 10,000 (bbc.co.uk)
- Teacher Salaries: What a Deal! (photomatt7.wordpress.com)