Many in the West think that Afghans reject schools, or that only boys can attend them. Although there is significant interest here in the US in educating girls in Afghanistan, our understanding of the local commitment to these initiatives is limited. So in 2005, as the conflict began to re-emerge in Afghanistan, I started to explore how foreign funding—including taxpayer dollars—could support education for all, particularly for girls, even in the midst of war. My co-author, Leigh Linden, and I carried out a field experiment to test the effects of community-based schools on the enrollment and achievement of boys and girls.
Community-based schools are set up in a large house or mosque and teachers come from the local community. An aid organization delivers government-approved textbooks and supplies and trains the teachers and parents who help oversee the schools. The Afghan government usually integrates these schools into the larger educational system, certifying teachers and, eventually, paying their salaries.
Our study shows that community schools significantly increase enrollment and test scores among all children, but particularly for girls. Community schools eliminate the gender gap in enrollment and dramatically reduce differences in test scores. Girls’ attendance rates in these villages increased from 19%–when they were walking long distances to attend the closest government school—to 69%, and boys’ from 35% to 70%. Girls’ average test scores increase significantly as well, narrowing the achievement gap between boys and girls.
We also show that as the distance to school increases, children’s enrollment falls dramatically for each additional mile. Again, girls are affected more than boys.
Afghan parents want their girls to get an education, but they don’t want them to walk long distances to school. Creating local, community schools gives girls opportunities for success.