Educating Afghanistan’s young people is the only true solution to the scourge of terrorism.
Last month, a U.S. government agency issued an assessment of the United States’ efforts to help Afghanistan recover from the devastation of 16 years of war. Its findings were grim. Six out of every 10 dollars since 2002 had been spent on Afghan defense forces, yet problems were rampant. Widespread illiteracy was found to be a “corrosive” challenge, undercutting progress not only in establishing security but also in carrying civilian projects. The quality of leadership was also identified as a major stumbling block. “If leadership [in the defense force] is poor,” the author of the report said, “the people below don’t care, and they wonder why they have to die.”
In my country of Afghanistan, opportunity is extremely limited, making hope for the future impossible for many families to conjure. This is a situation that gives extremism and terrorism — and the warped meaning and sense of purpose it can provide — an evergreen appeal.
At the root of the problem is the state of education. More than six out of every ten people cannot read or write. Nearly four million children aren’t in school, and more than three quarters of all children drop out of school by the ninth grade.
This actually represents progress compared to ten years ago, since there was virtually no ability to improve education during the many years Afghanistan was embroiled in war, starting with the Soviet Union’s 1978 invasion. Yet millions of Afghans are clear-eyed to the fact that their future is simply without hope.
Yet if we fail to make radical progress in our education system, the Afghan people’s ability to shape a more sophisticated economy, and a country in which war and terrorism are not tolerated, looks bleak.
Make no mistake — it is ultimately up to Afghans, not the U.S., and not the international community. While foreign aid dollars can provide meaningful support, local communities will ultimately have to produce and support the leaders of tomorrow that will help counter the twisted appeals of terrorist recruiters, fight to find ways for communities to prosper, and bring forth a future in which Afghanistan offers more of its people the promise of a better life for their children.
As Malala Yousufzai said, “I don’t want to kill terrorists. I want to educate the children of terrorists.” That is the true way to eradicate extremism in my country.
It is also why I launched Teach For Afghanistan, a program 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 and I believe that it could be our greatest asset. But too many who make it through our higher education system, or have the opportunity to study abroad, choose not to return to their homes to work for a better future for our country. Through Teach For Afghanistan, we provide a supportive pathway for young graduates to do so, while also helping to bring motivated new teachers into our overcrowded classrooms.
In 43 similar programs around the world, which include not just those well-known in the U.S. and the UK, but in countries from India to Malaysia to Peru to Bulgaria, roughly 70 percent of young people who finish the programs stay committed to working to improve education for disadvantaged children in some way, even if they initially planned on following a completely different career path. I’m hopeful that, over time, our program 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.
CEO, Teach For Afghanistan
Rahmatullah Arman completed his secondary school studies in Kabul, Afghanistan, and received a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations and a Masters in International Human Resources Management from the University of Pune, India. While in Pune, he worked as a volunteer in Teach For India Fellows’ classrooms, where he found deep resonance in the mission of Teach For All network partners to end educational inequity in their nations. With this inspiration, Mr. Arman is currently leading Teach For Afghanistan as its CEO and Founder, with operations in the Nangarhar and Parwan provinces of Afghanistan.
At Pune University, Mr. Arman was among the highest ranked national and international students from 2007–2011, and earned several national and international awards at debates and conferences. He has served in leading positions within government and private sector organizations in a variety of fields, and was selected as an inaugural member of the Malala Fund’s Gulmakai Network of champions for girls’ education.
Teach For Afghanistan has placed 80 Fellows in 21 schools in Nangarhar province, reaching over 13,000 girls and more than 10,000 boys, and recently recruited 30 young fellows in Parwan province who will impact over thousands of needy school children in Charikar and Bagram districts of Parwan province.