NATO-sponsored program offers Afghan forces rudimentary education
NATO hopes to get 100,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen to a third-grade literacy level by next summer, the official in charge of the Afghan National Security Forces Literacy Program said this week.
About 14,000 Afghan National Police and 12,000 soldiers are currently in literacy programs, according to Mike Faughnan, head of NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan’s Education Division.
The literacy effort — kicked off in 2008 and revamped in the past few months — aims to have 50,000 Afghan security forces members taught basic reading and numbers skills by December, Faughnan said Wednesday.
However, reaching the third-grade level is just a start. Faughnan said that level is “not sufficient” for the force, and that curriculum to get Afghan troops to a fourth-grade level should be in place by September, with plans to teach to a fifth-grade level in the works.
The alliance has hired 700 Afghans as instructors and pays them $500 to $600 a month depending on experience, a huge salary in a nation where average yearly income is roughly $400.
Improving literacy in a country where only 28 percent of the population can read is essential for the Afghan soldiers and police to do their jobs, Faughnan said, while giving the trainees a vital skill should they leave the army or police.
Literacy rates for the Afghan forces stand at about 93 percent among officers, 30 percent among noncommissioned officers and 11 percent among junior enlisted personnel.
According to Faughnan, third-grade literacy means being able to read, write and comprehend short paragraphs, as well as use correct punctuation and be able to do long division.
Rates vary by province, Faughnan said, with about 58 percent of Kabul residents literate, but only 1 percent of those living in southern Zabul province able to read.
The literacy program is funded by various international organizations at about $12 million annually and involves courses for recruits in basic training as well as for police and soldiers in the field. So far it has a 95 percent pass rate, he said.
Class instruction varies across the country. Some locations have intensive classes for six to seven hours a day, Faughnan said. In those cases, a third-grade level of proficiency can be reached in eight weeks.
“In other locations, because of operational requirements, we teach one hour a day, maybe two hours a day,” he said. “And in those instances, the course can take seven, eight months. So we are very flexible in the way we deliver it.”
Some Afghan commanders have refused the literacy courses for their troops because of the difficulty of working them in around military operations. Faughnan said he had heard of some commanders outright refusing the instruction.
“Including literacy instruction in their training, while very valuable to them, is another piece of training they have to work in,” he said. “That creates some problems. Some challenges, not really problems.”