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Opinion

Would you risk your life to take business classes?

Many Afghan college students who attend the American University in Afghanistan do. They represent the vanguard of a movement to restore Afghanistan’s intellectual capital – and peace. While militaries come and go, universities are enduring investments, at a fraction of the cost.

By C. Michael Smith / May 9, 2011



Kabul, Afghanistan

Sayyed’s cousins are members of the Taliban. His distant uncle is Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban movement. Any one of them would kill Sayyed if they knew where he was. Yet each day, he attends classes on business and management at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF). “My father said I must have an education, because he had one,” says Sayyed. As for his cousins, he notes, “They are illiterate.”

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Ten years into the war in Afghanistan, much of the talk is about surges, Taliban muscle, and exit strategies. But a growing number of military and civilian authorities are joining education advocates – people as different as nongovernmental organization English teachers and US military commanders – in agreeing that books and teachers, not just guns and soldiers, are needed to transform the country from a war-weary state to a responsible member of the international community.

Direct and sustained global support for education would hasten this transformation.

Afghan education is on the move

As it stands, education is on the move here, from Kabul to Kandahar – yes, even in the embattled spiritual center of the Taliban. In that volatile province, the United Nations notes that 50 high schools have opened in the past 10 months alone, and more than 100,000 boys and 40,000 girls have begun attending classes in the last year. (Ten years ago, girls were banned from any education, and three out of four boys did not attend school.)

Record numbers of students are applying for admission to college. These students, many of whom have overcome extreme poverty and danger to sit in front of blackboards, represent the vanguard of a movement to restore Afghanistan’s intellectual capital.

It’s an uphill battle in a country roiled by 30 years of war. A myriad of problems remain, from a lack of supplies to a dearth of qualified instructors. However, education is an area where the potential for success is stunning, particularly given the relatively low costs involved.

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