Small Wars Journal

Afghanistan: Education and Literacy

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Afghanistan: Education and Literacy

by Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Killebrew-Conwell

Download the full article: Afghanistan: Education and Literacy

I've seen a lot of news about how the solution for Afghanistan is schools, and I agree, with reservations. Provided they get a chance, educated Afghans can change this country for the better. But sweeping claims that schooling will fix Afghanistan's ills better than the military coalition rest on a false dilemma.

The largest educational endeavor in Afghanistan is the Afghan National Army's literacy programs, which are designed, funded, directed, and inspected by the military coalition. All soldiers who enlist in the ANA receive literacy training -- ranging from learning numbers so soldiers can read speedometers and bank balances to intensive English language classes for specialties that need them.

No NGO that provides education has facilities and access to a cross section of the Afghan population like coalition forces. Afghan soldiers learn with soldiers from other tribes and places, slowly imbibing nationalism and patriotism as well as literacy. To some in the West, "nationalism" and "patriotism" have negative connotations, but compared to the dangerous limitations of tribalism and its bloody history in Afghanistan, nationalism and patriotism broaden intellectual horizons and provide less volatile perspectives.

Download the full article: Afghanistan: Education and Literacy

Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Killebrew-Conwell, U.S. Army, is an advisor with the Afghan National Army

About the Author(s)


Mike Diamanti (not verified)

Wed, 12/09/2009 - 4:45pm

Some recent comments by Greg Mortenson, from an interview for MSNBC:
"I think our government has done a poor job telling the public that about a third to half of those troops Obama is sending over are trainer troops. Of the 22,000 troops announced in February, 8,000 of those are trainer troops -- from the National Guard and reservists. Theyre teachers and engineers, bankers, dentists, horticulturalists, civil engineers and veterans. And roughly about a third or more of the new 30,000 troops he is sending will be trainer troops."
Couple the above trainer troops with the tremendous progress that Mortenson's non-profit, the Central Asia Institute, has accomplished in raising literacy rates in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past ten years, and Americans can see real progress in reducing ignorance and diminishing extremism in both countries.

Andrea Conway (not verified)

Sun, 11/29/2009 - 12:30am

You essay is fascinating and a bit of a contradiction. You seem to believe that schools, education and literacy are essential if there is ever to be an independent and viable Afghanistan. But you never make a clear case for the coalitions responsibility to secure that education. Public schools where children learn freely, where thinking and participating in civil, national and patriotic discourse are the crucible for changing the bloody history of Afghanistan.
Coalition service men and women sacrifice their bodies and minds to support and provide a restructuring of Afghanistan and yet they do not have the funding or infrastructure that is necessary. The question is how long will this tragic war continue before the strategy moves from military model to what you correctly described as " to nation build through education." The best thing for the people of Afghanistan is to have their intellectuals, teachers, artists and doctors back and the only way that can happen is if they can start to grow them themselves. That has to start with the children. Educating the Afghan soldiers is important but educating Afghan children is essential if the culture is going to evolve.
What you are saying is very important. Keep the conversation moving. Thank you.