Steps Towards Afghan Girls Education Success (STAGES)

Removing the barriers to education for young women in Afghanistan

Challenge: 2.5million 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 began implementing the first STAGES programme in 2013, which ran for five years, with support from the UK Government’s Girls’ Education Challenge fund. Building on AKDN’s education programming in Afghanistan since 2002, the project delivered 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 16 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

The initial programme closed in 2017, but its successes led to a second round of funding for STAGES II (2017-2021) and the Leave No Girl Behind+ (LNGB+) project (2019-2022).

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 programmes engage with teachers, families, communities, local decision-makers and Ministry of Education staff at all levels.

STAGES - in pictures

Key STAGES achievements to date

  • Over 210,000 girls have been reached across 16 provinces in Afghanistan.
  • Over 7,500 teachers have received training and 1,995 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 retention rates are 30% higher on average in CBE classes when compared to government schools. (93% in CBE primary; 62% in government schools).
  • 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.

How does educating girls help societies flourish?


Dramatically improved health outcomes

If all mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would be reduced by two-thirds


Reduced birth rates

Women with secondary education have on average 2.8 less children (Sub-Saharan Africa)


Strengthened economies

When 10% more girls go to school, a country’s GDP increases by an average of 3%


Increased number of women in work

Who are able to provide products and services to their communities

Related short films

Watch the short film to understand more about how STAGES works, where it operates, and how it aims to remove the barriers to education faced by young Afghan women.

In 2019, we created the Meet Laila! video to raise awareness about the barriers Afghan girls face when trying to access education, as well as celebrate our partnership with FCDO and the STAGES consortium actors.

In 2020, we caught up with our Afghan friend Laila to find out how she and her community had responded to Coronavirus, and how AKF and its partners had supported her to keep learning during lockdown.

Related articles and stories

STAGES is funded with UKAID from the UK government.