The ELA program; shortcomings and contradictory statistics

Afghanistan is one of the three countries where the illiteracy rate has vastly challenged the society. After two African countries, Afghanistan is still the third country where the rate of illiteracy is very high and only 30% of Afghans are literate.

According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNECSO) director and representative in Afghanistan, Patricia McPhillips, adult literacy was one of the areas that have been vastly neglected in the past one and a half decade.

In the past 15 years, despite millions of dollars of international community’s aids in Afghanistan, progress in some areas were very slow including Ministry of Education’s program of Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA). ELA was always criticized that it is a “symbolic” program and in practice, as statistics show, no fundamental work has been done.

Here you would read about the ELA program, factors behind its failure, and the contradiction of statistics provided by the government.


Literacy rate in Afghanistan

UNESCO defines literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society”. An illiterate individual can be defined as he who cannot read and write.

Afghanistan is one of the countries with the lowest literacy rate in the world. Based on the UNESCO statistics, 70% of Afghans are illiterate and illiteracy is a major challenge in Afghanistan. Only an average 31% of people more than 15 years of age are literate. The average literacy rate among women is 17% and the highest rate of literacy among women is in Kabul where 35% of women are literate and the lowest rate of literacy is in southern provinces of the country where less than 2% of women are literate. The average literacy rate of men is 45% and the highest literacy of men is in Kabul (68%) and the lowest in Helmand (41%)[1].


ELA program

The literacy program was founded during Amanullah’s rule in Afghanistan and after the overthrow of the Taliban regime and with the beginning of infusion of foreign aids in Afghanistan, the adult literacy program also started and since 2008, United Nations Human Settlement Program (UN-Habitat), UNESCO and various institution in the Afghan government including Ministry of Education have joined efforts to enhance literacy in Afghanistan. The first stage of Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan (ELA) was started in 2008 with $38m aid by Japan which still continues, but still there is a high rate of illiteracy in the country.

Based on government statistics, from 1388 (2009-2010) to 1393 (2014-2015), 3514535 people were registered in ELA program. (See chart-1). But as the statistics in other fields, the statistics of ELA is also questionable and according to education experts are unreliable, because these statistics suggests landmark progress in education while it is not the case in reality.

One issue in these statistics is that it presumes all those who have registered in ELA program as literate while there is no exact survey in hand that is conducted after examinations from the graduates of this program.

Chart-1: ELA program statistics (1388-1394)


Source: Central Statistic Organization of Afghanistan

Imprecise and contradictory statistics

Statistics provided by the Afghan Ministry of Education in the past one decade were always inexact and in contradiction to each other and there were vast differences among these statistics.

Based on the statistics of UNESCO, currently the number of illiterates with more than 15 years of age is more than 11 million in the country. These statistics show that in rural areas 90% of women and 63% of men are illiterate[2]. While the statistics provided around 7 or 8 years ago showed the same rate of illiteracy as well. In 1388 (2009-2010), the statistics of Ministry of Education showed that there were 11 million illiterate in Afghanistan and the statistics of the United Nations in the same year also showed that 90% of women and 63% of men in rural areas were illiterate[3].

On the other hand, the Afghan Ministry of Education states that currently there are 15 thousand literacy training centers in all over the country where 500 thousand students are receiving literacy trainings and these centers graduate 300 to 350 thousand people annually.  [4] Seven years ago, however, Ministry of Education had said that it will give literacy training to 500 thousand people every year and until 1399 it will reduce the illiteracy to its lowest rates in the country; but still Afghanistan is among the countries with the highest rate of illiteracy in the world.

In 1391, Ministry of Education had said that the number of illiterate people in the country was 10 million people. In 1393, the Afghan Minister of Education had said that 5 million people are added to literate people and had said that there were 7 million illiterate people in the country and that 500 thousand people are added annually to the literates. According to his speech now (1395) 6 million people were supposed to be added to the literate people in Afghanistan[5]. In 1394, the Afghan Ministry of Education had said that there were 10 million illiterate people in the country and now in 1395, the number of illiterates is announced to be 11 million[6].

About the literacy training centers, officials in the Afghan Ministry of Education had also said in 1392 that there were 30 thousand centers with overall 770 thousand students in the country[7]; but now the Ministry of Education say that 500 thousand people are receiving literacy trainings in 15 thousand literacy training centers. However, statistics of the Central Statistic Organization of Afghanistan is far different than these statistics and the number of illiterate people is also increasing annually.

Factors behind the failure of ELA program

Substandard Curriculum: the education experts have repeatedly criticized the substandard curriculum but this issue has never been fully addressed by respective officials; now the Deputy Ministry of Education accepts that the current curriculum does not meet the needs of those who receive literacy trainings.

Negligence and weak administrations: Literacy Deputy Ministry of Education speaks about achievements and issues of literacy program only in the days of celebration of literacy day, but in practice even the webpage of this organ has nothing to say except for the introduction of Literacy deputy minister and there is no statistics of literacy on it. Spending $20m every year, this organ, due to weak administrations, have not had tangible achievements.

Corruption: research reports show that the Afghan Ministry of Education has not properly used international aids in the past fourteen years and most of these aids are gone in personal accounts. CSRS has documents in hand that indicate that in some insecure regions of the country, teacher and education related employees receive salaries without the existence of an actual literacy training center.

Lack of budget: the total ordinary and development budget of the Ministry of Education in 1394 was 476557120000 Afghanis and from this amount only 1 to 1.5% is dedicated to literacy program which indicates the little attention of the government in this aspect.

Insecurity: insecurities in the country have also resulted in implementation of literacy program solely in cities while often remote areas suffer from illiteracy.

The end

[1]UNESCO statistics:

[2] For further information read, ‘UNESCO: 11 million afghans above 15 years are illiterate’, 3 Aqrab 1395, see it online:

[3] AVA Press, ‘Afghanistan is one of the most illiterate country in the world’ 17 Sunbula 1388, see it online:

[4] BBC, New governmental policy to curb down illiteracy, 30 Aqrab 1395, see it online:

[5] further info in this report:

[6] click here for more info:

[7]for details click on the link below:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *