Two parallel educational systems function in Afghanistan. Traditional Islamicmadrassa found in towns and villages teach children basic moral values andritual knowledge through the study of the Holy Koran, the Hadith(Sayings of the Prophet Mohammad), and popular edited religious texts. Higherlevel madrassa located in Herat, Kunduz, Ghazni, Kandahar and Kabul were knownas important learning centers. Leading religious leaders also attended famousmadrassa in India such as the renowned establishment located at Deoband.

The older generation was educated in madrassa or privately at home. Themodern educational system was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century bythe government which used it as a means to convince traditionalists of thecompatibility of Islam with modernization. This system was subsequently expandedwith the continued assistance of France, Germany, Turkey, India, Britain, theUnited States and the Soviet Union.

In 1935, education was declared universal, compulsory and free. With itsexpansion, the secular system came to be regarded as the principle medium forcreating a national ideology and emphasized productive skills while effectivelylimiting Islamic studies to ritual knowledge. By the 1960s, technical educationassumed critical importance because of the surge in development.

Beginning as early as the reign of Amir Abdur Rahman (1880-1901),considerable attention was paid to extending secular elementary schools, lyceesand vocational schools to the rural areas. Nevertheless, education remainedprimarily the prerogative of upper urban groups. By the 1960s as the expandinggovernment apparatus required more bureaucrats, ninety percent of all schoolgraduates were employed by government with the result that the educated tendedto be seen by villagers as government officials. Graduates of madrassa soughtcareers as religious functionaries or judges.

Since 1978, however, a steady decline has all but demolished the educationalinfrastructure. Afghanistan in 1996 had the highest illiteracy rate in Asia, forboth men and women.

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