By the Numbers: Why Education is Critical to Afghanistan's Success

Learn more about Hannah Abney.
Hannah Abney
Chief Communications Counselor
George W. Bush Presidential Center

When the Taliban came to power in 1996, it strictly forbade female education and closed the majority of girls’ schools. Under the Islamic...

When the Taliban came to power in 1996, it strictly forbade female education and closed the majority of girls’ schools. Under the Islamic fundamentalist group’s control, girls’ enrollment plunged from 32 to 6.4 percent.

In the years immediately after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, education became a top priority for the Afghan government and received international support. As a result of a concentrated focus, primary school enrollment expanded nearly seven-fold, from 900,000 students in 2000 to 6.7 million in 2009.

For girls, the improvement was even more dramatic: enrollment increased from an estimated 5,000 under Taliban rule to 2.4 million. Some 120,000 Afghan girls have now graduated from secondary school, and 15,000 are enrolled in universities.

The Situation Today in Afghanistan

According to a 2012 UNICEF report, “the education level of women emerges as a reliable predictor of almost all [development] indicators” in Afghanistan.  And the country is very young — fully 70 percent of the Afghan population is under 25 years old. So investments in girls’ — and boys’ — education will have a significant impact on the nation’s future health and economic stability.

Despite tremendous surges in school enrollment, only 55 percent of all primary school age children and 32 percent of secondary school age children attend school, with high disparities between urban and rural areas. Afghan girls attend school at lower rates than boys, and primary school completion rates for girls remain at only 13 percent.

In Afghanistan, a typical 14-year-old Afghan girl has already been forced to leave formal education and is at acute risk of mandated marriage and early motherhood. A full 76 percent of her countrywomen have never attended school. Only 12.6 percent can read.

Why Invest in Education for Girls?

Educating girls saves lives.

Societies where girls are married as children have high maternal death rates, but educated girls tend to delay marriage and have fewer children. When they do marry, they are less likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth, and more likely to have healthy children.

For mothers with a primary school education, the mortality of their children under five falls by nearly 50 percent, and for each additional year of schooling, infant mortality falls by an additional 10 percent.

Educating girls increases their lifetime incomes.

Girls who have one more year of education than the national average earn 10 to 20 percent higher wages; while girls with a secondary education get an 18 percent return in the form of future wages.

And women are more likely than men to reinvest their income in their families, spending 90 percent of earnings on their children compared to men’s 30 to 40 percent.

Educating girls and women encourages them to resist discrimination, vote, and participate in civil society.

In nations where girls go to school, corruption decreases and conditions that lead to violent extremism are reduced.  In short, female education has a tremendous impact on a country’s wealth and stability. That’s why the World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report argues that investing in women and girls is “smart economics.”

Want more information about how to support women and girls in Afghanistan? Click here to learn about the Bush Institute's Afghan Women's Project.