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Student absentee rate remains high in Afghan schools: SIGAR

AT-KABUL: The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in a report said that absence rate in Afghan schools is much higher than what the Afghan officials claim, despite spending of some $868 million dollars to rebuild the education system in Afghanistan.

The report said that many schools lacked basic facilities including electricity and potable water. As of September 30, 2016, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has disbursed about $868 million for education programs in the country. SIGAR received a gloomy picture after assessment of 25 schools in western Herat province.

“SIGAR was able to assess the general usability and potential structural, operational, and maintenance issues for each of the 25 schools. Our observations from these site visits indicated that there may be problems with student and teacher absenteeism at many of the schools we visited in Herat that warrant further investigation by the Afghan government. We also observed that several schools we visited in Herat lack basic needs including electricity and clean water, and have structural deficiencies that are affecting the delivery of education,” the report outlined.

During the assessment visits the SIGAR staff was told by the school staff that the 25 schools they inspected typically operated two shifts of approximately five hours each per school day. SIGAR interviewed school staff and asked questions about total enrollment and estimated daily number of absent students. Survey responses were collected and analyzed for irregularities. On average, officials reported an enrollment of 2,639 students at each of the 25 schools in Herat province and a daily expected absentee rate of roughly 9 percent (or 241 students). “SIGAR staff observed and tallied the students present at the schools during each site visit. On average, 561 students were observed at each of the 25 schools inspected in Herat province, which represents approximately 23 percent of all students reportedly enrolled by school staff.  At 16 schools, we observed less than 40 percent of students reportedly enrolled on the school grounds, including 13 where we observed fewer than 20 percent of students reportedly enrolled,” the report said.

According to SIGAR, four schools had very few students present during the observed shift, and one school was closed—even though we visited the school at approximately 1:00 pm on a Thursday. “For example, at one school in Kohsaan district, school staff reported 25, or about 2 percent, of 1,200 enrolled students were reported absent during our site visit. At the time of our visit, there were only ten students on school grounds.”  At a second school located in Herat City, a school official noted that 1,287 students attended the school on a normal day. However, SIGAR staff observed that only nine students were present on school grounds at that time.

In addition to documenting the number of teachers and students observed, SIGAR examined the basic physical condition of the 25 USAID-constructed or -rehabilitated schools in Herat province and identified several schools lacking basic needs. “Specifically, less than half of the schools had reliable electricity, and two facilities lacked access to a clean source of water. Additionally, we found schools that had structural and utility deficiencies that could endanger students, teachers, and other occupants. Three school staff members specifically mentioned the need for facility maintenance funds,” the report said.

UNESCO reports that the Afghan government does not measure absentee rates based on individual school enrollments. Instead, Ministry of Education uses net enrollment rates or “the number of children of official primary school age, who are enrolled in primary education as a percentage of the total children of school age population.” In 2013, the net enrollment rates in primary education for boys and girls were 86 and 64 percent for primary education, and 71 and 50 percent for general education (grades 1–12) respectively.

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