Education Cannot Wait Interviews Afghanistan’s Minister of Education Rangina Hamidi

Apr 12, 2021 5:00 PM ET


Rangina Hamidi

Apr 12 2021 – H.E. Rangina Hamidi is the first female Minister of Education of Afghanistan in the last 30 years. Minister Hamidi was born in Kandahar, Afghanistan, fled with her family to Pakistan in 1981 during the Soviet Occupation and eventually immigrated to the United States. She attended high school in the United States and received her B.A. degree with a double major in Religion and Gender Studies at the University of Virginia.

In 2003, Minister Hamidi returned to Afghanistan to help rebuild her country. Using her leadership and management skills, she founded Kandahar Treasure in 2008, the first women-owned and women-run social enterprise in Kandahar Province. Kandahar Treasure grew to provide over 400 women sustainable income with the production of exquisite hand-embroidered textiles for apparel and home décor. The products are marketed nationally and internationally. While it is critically important to empower women financially, Minister Hamidi realized the importance of education after experiencing that foundational change in women’s lives will come through education only.

Today Minister Hamidi continues to champion the rights of girls and women, supporting new education initiatives designed to achieve goals for universal and equitable education as outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She has made it her personal mission to become the role model for many girls in Afghanistan who will one day change the future of their country.

ECW: In Afghanistan, over 3.7 million children are out of school; at least 60 per cent being girls. Yet, this represents significant progress for the country. Can you tell us more?

H.E. Rangina Hamidi: As the first female Minister of Education in the last 30 years, I take pride in the journey this ministry has made. We have come a long way since 2001 in terms of educational outcomes. The Ministry of Education has taken significant steps in rebuilding the education system to safeguard and advance children’s rights to education.

To go from approximately 800,000 students and very low numbers of girls in 2001 to more than 9 million students in 2020 – of whom 39 per cent are girls – is a major achievement. Today, most students who begin their primary school will complete their educational journey in Afghanistan. This represents progress.

Such an unprecedented expansion in access is always compounded by huge qualitative challenges which I heavily feel each day including raising primary attendance rates beyond the rate of 55 per cent. The key goals of my ministry are to introduce drastic reforms aiming at improving the quality, and increase enrolment in primary education to 100 per cent. Bringing all the out-of-school children back to school in a conducive learning environment is a major goal we have set for ourselves. As a woman minister it is my particular goal to work on increasing the enrollment and retention of girls in schools.

ECW: In 2018, together with the Ministry and our education partners, ECW rolled out a Multi-Year Resilience Programme in Afghanistan to address the education needs of such out-of-school children. How relevant and impactful has this programme been in the lives of out-of-school girls and boys, particularly those accessing education for the first time?

H.E. Rangina Hamidi: Aiming to enroll half a million out-of-school children, the ECW-financed Multi-Year Resilience Programme (MYRP) represents a significant platform to help the Ministry of Education to achieve its target of enrolling children in schools.

The focus on out-of-school children and use of community-based education as the education service provision modality aligns perfectly with the ministry’s target and policy priorities. Multi-year design and catalytic seed funding are innovative approaches as lack of funding too often disrupts our children’s continuity of learning.

Today, Afghanistan’s MYRP can boast having more than 150,000 first-time school goers with 58 per cent of girls continuing their learning and overcoming challenges, including COVID-19, which was a major setback for the whole education sector. Close to half (48 per cent) of teachers recruited through the MYRP are women.

I also welcome the comprehensive inclusive education strategy for children with disabilities in community-based education initiatives being piloted by the MYRP.

Additionally, one of the important features of the MYRP is the robust in-country governance mechanism, which is led by the Ministry of Education with active participation of donors, multilateral agencies like the World Bank, United Nations agencies like UNICEF and UNESCO, and civil society actors. This mechanism enhances the programme’s effectiveness and alignment.

ECW: The MYRP still needs to mobilize US$108 million to be fully funded and reach all 3.7 million out-of-school girls and boys. What is the government’s strategy to reduce the financing gap? Is the funding gap factored into both the Humanitarian Response Plan and the National Education Sector Plan?

H.E. Rangina Hamidi: Thank you for asking such an important question. From the bottom of my heart, I thank HE President Ashraf Ghani for allocating AFS 49.8 billion (US$646 million) towards education, which is 11.6 per cent of the national budget. This demonstrates commitment of the senior most leadership of the country even during this difficult period of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, donor support remains critical for education programmes and projects in Afghanistan. One significant source of such funding is the US$49.5 million ECW catalytic grant for the MYRP. I am grateful to all the donors contributing to the global pooled fund of ECW – particularly Sweden and Switzerland, who have earmarked US$13.5 million for the MYRP in Afghanistan.

Investment in the MYRP helps to enhance the coherence between emergency and development aid efforts, while promoting peace. We trust that additional donors will contribute generously, following the path shown by our friends from Sweden and Switzerland with earmarked funding. Similarly, I urge all donors to honour their pledge made in the donor conference, which will help us to achieve our Humanitarian Response Plan and other ambitious strategic plans.

ECW: Afghanistan has a young population with a median age of 18 years, creating a huge burden on the education system. Can you describe the challenges faced by Afghan girls and boys to access quality basic education? What are the Ministry of Education’s priorities and strategies to meet them?

H.E. Rangina Hamidi: We recently completed a sector review that shows significant educational achievements for fellow Afghan children. However, we do have substantial challenges to overcome. These include shortage of school infrastructure; insecurity, which disproportionately affects girls; lack of an adequate number of qualified teachers, especially female teachers, which impacts girls’ enrolment; and inadequate teaching and learning materials. The Ministry of Education is in the process of implementing a reform agenda which will revise the national curriculum, which will require new textbooks to be disseminated and teachers to be trained. The new reform agenda will be implemented in light of the challenges that the Ministry of Education has faced in the last two decades as the focus of the ministry is now on the quality of education.

The Ministry of Education’s Strategic Plans are forward-looking, which focus on bridging the existing gaps while aiming to expand the provision of education services. To achieve these goals, we are leveraging 21st century innovations such as the use of information and communication technology (ICT) to establish digital learning platforms, improved use of data to make evidence-based decisions, and expanded knowledge sharing platforms to connect stakeholders across the country.

The ECW-supported MYRP is an essential vehicle in rolling out the National Education Sector Plan. I firmly believe this programme will contribute toward national efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, not only in the education sector, but also in terms of ending hunger and poverty, ensuring gender equality, and leaving no one behind.

We have recognized community-based education as a formal learning pathway for the children in hard-to-reach, insecure, underinvested, marginalized and culturally sensitive areas and established a community-based education division under the direct supervision of the Deputy Minister for Education HE Dr. Attaullah Wahidyar. The community-based education policy and corresponding strategies will certainly benefit from the experiences of the MYRP in Afghanistan, such as learning assessment, tailored teachers’ training strategy, and students’ transition plans, to mention a few.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit children disproportionately as it poses additional barriers to education. In Afghanistan, 4.1 million children between 6 and 18 years of age are expected to be deprived of schooling due to COVID-19. The pandemic has already affected an academic year for all students in cold climate provinces, while delaying the start of the new academic year in warm climate provinces. We are closely engaged with all education actors to address the possible dropout and learning loss due to COVID-19, especially in community-based education learning environments.

ECW: Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better on a personal level. Can you tell us what education means to you personally, and why? Can you also share with us three books that have influenced you the most personally and/or professionally, and why you’d recommend them to other people to read?

H.E. Rangina Hamidi: In 1987 living as a refugee Afghan child with my family in Quetta, Pakistan, my sister and I were privileged to be born in a family where education was viewed as a right and it was not an exclusive right of boys only. My parents worked hard to find money to enroll their children in private schools because refugee children were not allowed to be enrolled in Pakistan’s government schools. Unfortunately, community elders who were actively engaged in the fight against the soviet invasion did not think that it was appropriate for girls to get an education. To them there simply was no need of education for girls’ future. We were pulled out of school out of the fear of facing harsh repercussions of having our faces burned with acid – which was the punishment for not obeying rules at that time. My father made the brave decision to go to the USA in 1988 because he saw no future for his daughters if he remained where he was. Today I am the result of his decision he made in 1988. Education changes girls’ futures.

The three books that have influenced me in shaping who I am are:

• Islamic Roots of Democratic Pluralism:Abdulaziz Sachedina • A Thousand Splendid Suns:Khaled Hussaini • Ghost Wars: Steve Coll

These three books speak about my passion in life: Islam in the modern world, Afghan women’s issues and the current situation of Afghanistan. These three books among others have left a mark on me.

ECW: Finally, are there any other key points you would like to share with our readers around the world on the importance of working together with ECW and its partners to address education in emergencies, so that together, we can help get crisis-affected children and youth back to learning with the fierce urgency of now?

H.E. Rangina Hamidi: As the leader of the education sector in Afghanistan and custodian of Afghan children’s education, I commend ECW’s collaborative approach which ensures more effective and coordinated responses among all education stakeholders. The MYRP in Afghanistan is already yielding positive results and we hope the programme’s duration can be expanded to allow all of the 150,000 early-learners to at least complete the primary cycle of education. We also call on additional donor support to ensure it can be brought to scale to support more children who continue today to be deprived of a quality education.

Today, Afghanistan is on the road to recovering from decades of conflicts and multiple crises. Our government, together with partners such as ECW, is taking bold steps to put education at the center of these recovery efforts. I invite world leaders, policymakers and donors to stand with Afghanistan’s girls and boys. The time to invest in education is now, it is the steppingstone towards a brighter, more prosperous and peaceful future for our children.

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