In the village of Shuduj, in northern Afghanistan, young girls are sitting in a biology class. Just a few years ago this would have been unthinkable, as there were no girls schools. Now, like the boys, they can attend school and get the opportunity to improve their lives.
This is possible because Germany is building schools, training teachers and supporting the education system in Afghanistan. At their new schools the children learn not only biology but also history and literature, and some of them now even learn German. We have equipped classrooms with computers, and we have fitted and stocked new libraries.
Reconstructing Afghanistan after more than twenty years of war and destruction, as well as containing the threat of terrorism – this has been the international community’s objective during its eight-year mission in that country. It is becoming ever clearer that this mission cannot be completed by military means alone. The closer the deadline approaches for handing over more responsibility to Afghans, the more urgent the question becomes of how to make young Afghans fit for the future, since the fate of their country will soon be in their hands.
Education is one of the most powerful defences against fundamentalist terrorism. Only by giving young people a broad education which opens their minds and allows them to understand different world-views can we pave the way towards a peaceful and stable future in Afghanistan. For only those sharing international knowledge standards can share in worldwide political and economic developments and in the wealth of arts and culture. Only those who possess multi-dimensional knowledge and are able to see the bigger picture can open their country to the outside world and unite it in domestic terms.
The Afghanistan Conference in London this January set major landmarks, placing even greater emphasis on education and culture in that country. Here Germany is leading the way.
As regards education we believe in cooperation. In a country where violent conflict has been the rule for many years now, we must create the environment for non-violent development in schools and universities. We are drawing up curricula together with the Afghans, training Afghan teachers, and carefully introducing modern teaching concepts into the Afghan education system so that it can catch up with international standards. Since the Taliban regime ended, Afghan schools and universities have undergone massive changes. Peace studies and trauma management have become part of teacher training. We are also building and supporting special model schools, where with the help of German experts young Afghan teachers can practice the skills learned at university. Through these long-term partnerships we bolster and improve the Afghan school system.
Since 2002 we have given scholarships to around 1600 young Afghans to enable them to study in Germany. Our work to restore the university system ranges from further training for Afghan lecturers to founding entire faculties. One highly positive aspect is that the share of female students and university lecturers is now 20%, whereas under Taliban rule there was not one woman studying or teaching at Afghan universities.
Recent opinion polls show that our commitment is having an effect. Over 70% of Afghans are optimistic about the future, and just as many are positive about their local schools. The vast majority of Afghans want girls to be able to attend school. These people’s hopes rest on us, as it will be a long time before they can realize their dreams by themselves.
By the end of 2010, Germany will have invested almost 1.6 billion euro in civilian reconstruction in Afghanistan. A large share, over 110 million euro, has been invested in culture and education.
That is a lot of money, but we know that many conflicts in the world are due to religious and cultural differences. We must address this issue, and that is why funding for a broad education is money well spent. Afghanistan needs military security, but it also needs education and civilian international partnerships so that it can stand on its own feet as soon as possible. Our cultural relations and education policy therefore gives people affected by crisis and conflict, not only in Afghanistan, a peaceful perspective and thus has an impact far beyond our presence, in terms of both duration and location.
Printed in the FAZ on 15 March 2010