First lady, minister of economy, excellencies – and afghan youth
A little less than a month ago, a few days before my Christmas leave, I was preparing for yet another meeting – this time with an organization called “youth thinkers”.
You know how it is with meetings. There are many of them. Sometimes even too many.
And after four hectic months as a newcomer to your country, where I had been bombarded with new impressions my energy levels were starting to drain.
But then - in comes these five very professional young people - girls and boys – full of ideas, full of enthusiasm – and suddenly the room was filled with energy. For me it almost felt like getting a vitamin injection.
I sure hope that you will be able to carry with you this enthusiasm throughout this inspiring process that you have embarked on with your National Youth Symposium on the UN sustainable development goals.
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Since my arrival last summer two things have struck me.
On the one hand I have seen the complexity and the size of the problems and the hardship that your beautiful country is facing. It is truly overwhelming.
But on the other hand I have met so many talented people here with the ability and willingness to make a positive difference for their country. If only they could be allowed to play the role that their capabilities and competences warrants!
This is also why I find your idea of a youth symposium so inspiring. This is an initiative were the talent steps forward and says “We have ideas, we want to be heard, we want to influence our own future”.
And you should!
There are today 1,8 billion young people worldwide. You are important agents for change and you need to be part of the solution if the ambitions set out in the SDG’s are to be achieved in Afghanistan as elsewhere.
Youth and the role of youth in the SDG’s is an important priority for the Danish government. I am therefore very happy that we were able to sign earlier today an agreement on financial support to your symposium.
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The challenges faced by Afghanistan are overwhelming. There will be plenty of work to do for many years in order to achieve all 17 goals in your country. And no one can be blamed for wanting to start work on all the goals simultaneously.
But I believe that you have chosen a wise approach by focusing your efforts on a limited number of goals.
And that one of these goals is “goal nr. 4” on “quality education for all” makes an awful lot of sense.
Education is the gateway to opportunities. To a better health. To reducing inequalities that could otherwise lead to instability and unrest. Education simply is a fundamental human right.
Therefore the case for investing in education is indisputable – for the individual afghan as for afghan society at large. It is critical for the long term economic growth of your country. And as the “international commission on financing global education opportunities” has stated “investment in education will be essential for the achievement of all of the 17 Sustainable development goals.”
In other words this is a very good place to start.
And there is plenty of work to do for Afghanistan. Not only in catching up – but also in adapting to an entirely new set of skills that will be required on tomorrows labour markets.
So what to do ?
Well that is the question that you will need to answer over the course of the coming months. You will have to look at well known problems – but you will have to provide new ideas, new approaches, new ways of ensuring that “quality education for all” also becomes reality in Afghanistan.
Denmark has been an active partner of Afghanistan in this sector for over 10 years. Much has been achieved … but even more will need to be achieved in the years to come.
Based on the lessons we have learned from our engagement I would like to draw your attention to three challenges that will need to be met in Afghanistan – and where I believe that your ideas will be more than welcome:
First: Quality - Education in Afghanistan today – in spite of the progress that has been made – generally suffers from a lack of quality. Many children in school are actually not learning.
There is a wide gap between the quality of the Afghan education system and the global standards. And as those global standards are evolving the gap is widening.
The lack of quality is mainly caused by insufficient skilled education managers at all levels, insufficiency of skilled teachers – not least of female teachers outside the larger cities - and corruption which leads to misuse of funding. Ghost teachers and ghost schools is a phenomenon that is known all too well. Misuse of funds happens at the expense of critical investment in improving the quality of the education.
Second: Access - Millions of school age children particularly girls are still out of school. This is partly the result of insecurity leading to closed schools in some parts of the country.
Lack of proper infrastructure such as water, separate toilet facilities for girls, boundary walls and the remoteness of school locations are among other main causes that deprive children from access to education.
Third: Lack of modernization: Despite huge amounts of international assistance provided to the education sector in Afghanistan over the last decade, almost no schools make use of technology in administration and teaching.
While modernized education systems in the world are highly equipped with up-to-date administration capabilities, educational materials and other digital equipment, the schools in Afghanistan use outdated and inefficient methods of administration and teaching.
At a time where “disruption” is the talk-of-the-town – also in terms of changing education in developing countries. Afghanistan is missing out.
So there is plenty to do – and lots to talk about. The easiest thing would be to sit back and give up hope. You … you do the opposite.
And we are proud to support you in your quest for those solutions upon which the future of your education sector – and your country – will be built.
Dar karhait Mafaq bashee.