Equipping girls, boys and young adults with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to help them interact effectively with the world and contribute to society

Equipping girls, boys and young adults with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to help them interact effectively with the world and contribute to society


Worldwide, 600 million children and teenagers fail to reach basic levels of learning proficiency.  Nearly half of them remain out-of-school. However, even those in school are not being prepared to succeed in or contribute to society.  Amongst the illiterate youth, nearly two out of three are girls – a fact that has remained largely unchanged for the last 20 years.

As one of the Aga Khan Development Networks’s five leading agencies in education, the Aga Khan Foundation works to strengthen education systems to equip girls and boys with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values to help them interact effectively with the world and be contributing members to a pluralist society.

To do so, AKF works in partnership with governments, the private sector, civil society, academic institutions, school leaders, teachers, parents, communities and students to develop and scale affordable, innovative solutions that raise the quality and accessibility of public education systems for the most marginalised children worldwide.

CASE STUDY: Sparking a transformative change
Overcoming barriers to girls’ education in Afghanistan

Challenge: 2.5 million girls out of school

Access, retention, transition and low learning outcomes are all part of the educational disadvantage and inequality faced by girls in Afghanistan. Whilst access to school for both boys and girls has increased significantly since the fall of the Taliban, an estimated 4.2 million children are still out of school, 60% of which are girls. Of the 2.4 million girls in primary school, 42% drop out by Class 6 and only 30% are enrolled in secondary school. A Ministry of Education assessment has revealed that only 45% of enrolled girls complete primary-level education, while a mere 5% complete secondary education.

In many areas, cultural attitudes place restrictions on girls’ mobility due to concerns for safety and honour; therefore, distance to school disproportionately affects girls. The limited number of girls completing high school education, in turn, perpetuates the shortage of female teachers (only 51,000 of 170,000 primary teachers are female, mostly in urban areas).

Response: A focus on improving access and quality

AKF is currently implementing a five year (2013-17) programmewith support from the UK Government’s Girls’ Education Challenge fund. Building on AKDN’s education programming in Afghanistan since 2002, the project is delivering a comprehensive package of interventions to ensure a sustainable ladder of learning opportunities for girls from pre-primary, primary and secondary levels, through to teacher training and adult literacy access 15 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

Key target groups are girls in remote or insecure areas without access to formal schools; school-aged married girls; and older girls who missed the opportunity to go to school. To promote education access and quality learning for all these girls, the project engages with teachers, families, communities, local decision-makers and Ministry of Education staff at all levels.

Key achievements to date

  • Over 135,000 girls have been reached across 15 provinces in Afghanistan.
  • Over 9,000 teachers have received training and 800 young women are being supported to attend teacher-training college or take apprenticeships.
  • 110,000 boys are also receiving an education through this initiative.
  • 760 classrooms have been built or renovated and nearly 700,000 resource items (teacher kits, student kits, textbooks) have been provided.
  • Average drop-out rates are down to only 5%, whilst 95% of students are meeting the Ministry of Education’s standard for attendance (i.e. at least a 75% attendance record).
  • Over 100,000 community members have been engaged to support girls’ education.
  • Local school committees have been established to monitor attendance, drop-out, teaching quality, facilities maintenance etc., and advocate for improvements when necessary.

Lessons learnt

Although the STAGES project is still in progress, key lessons are already emerging to explain increased enrolment, reduced drop-out rates, improved graduation rates, and higher numbers of female teacher trainees. These include:

  • Quality teaching – According to students, parents and education officials, this has been the most significant difference. In many schools, it appears that the training and mentoring is becoming institutionalised and is continued by school staff and local education officials.
  • Supported and involved communities – In many places, school committees 
now serve as highly effective links between school and community. Encouragingly, communities are taking on many of the expenses that were originally supported by AKF, such as paying for transport. Parents are more willing to send their children to school, particularly their daughters, when they are confident that they are learning.
  • A new corps of local women teachers and role models – This is key to improving girls’ enrolment in high school, as more parents would allow their teenage daughters to continue their education if female teachers were present in schools. Furthermore, having women at the front of the classroom to teach, serve as role models and show that honourable, safe employment is a real prospect provides motivation for girls to attend and persevere in school.
  • Promoting local ownership and sustainability – Seeing tangible outcomes, schools, communities and education authorities are committed to continue what has been started and the programme schools are now sharing approaches with neighbouring schools.

*The Steps Towards Afghan Girls’ Education Success (STAGES) project is implemented by a consortium of partners led by the Aga Khan Foundation. This includes: Aga Khan Education Services, Care International, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, The Afghan Education Production Organisation and Roshan Telecom.

This video highlights AKF’s current girls’ education programme in Afghanistan (STAGES)

This video highlights AKF’s previous girls’ education programme in Afghanistan from 2009-13.

Educating girls brings enormous benefits

  • It dramatically improves health outcomes: If all mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds;
  • Reduces birth rates: women with secondary education have on average 2.8 less children (Sub-Saharan Africa);
  • Strengthens economies: when 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3%;
  • And, of course, increases the number of women in work.
Governmental girl school in the Eraq valley, Shibar district. The teachers have been trained by AKDN.

This DFID funded programme continues AKF’s work in girls education in Afghanistan which began in 2002.

AKF is a member of The International Aid Transparency InitIATIve (IATI). For more details about how we report on our programmes using the IATI standard please click here.