US Taxpayers Have Spent $868 Million on Afghan Schools, but Many Classrooms Are Empty
Policy + Politics

US Taxpayers Have Spent $868 Million on Afghan Schools, but Many Classrooms Are Empty

Abdul Malik

Either schools in Afghanistan have a massive truancy problem, or officials responsible for managing the educational system that U.S. taxpayers paid to set up are dramatically misreporting both attendance and staffing levels.

According to a report out Thursday from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the U.S. has now spent some $868 million dollars to rebuild the education system in Afghanistan, which suffered from neglect under the Taliban and then from destruction and general chaos in the wake of the U.S. invasion of the country in 2001.

Related: $780 Billion US Dollars Later, the Taliban Is Gaining Ground in Afghanistan

Part of that money was used to fund the construction or rebuilding of schools throughout the country, many with the capacity to accommodate more than 1,000 students each. However, a SIGAR review of 25 such schools in the country’s Herat province found that the attendance levels at the schools are often dramatically lower than what administrators are reporting, and that staffing levels frequently appear lower as well.

Afghan School

Students Receiving Instruction Outside of Education Facility S145A in Kushk District. Source: SIGAR, November 26, 2015

“Our observations from these site visits indicated that there may be problems with student and teacher absenteeism at many of the schools we visited in Herat that warrant further investigation by the Afghan government,” the report found. “We also observed that several schools we visited in Herat lack basic needs including electricity and clean water, and have structural deficiencies that are affecting the delivery of education.”

According to the report, officials told the U.S. Agency for international Development, which oversees the program, that the 25 schools in Herat had an average enrollment of 2,639 each. However, on average, SIGAR inspectors saw 561 students at each school, less than one quarter of the number reported.

One school that had reported 1,200 students enrolled had only 10 in class when inspectors arrived. Another with 1,287 had only nine students in attendance.

Related: How the US Wasted Billions on Broken Highways in Afghanistan

Administrators in Herat told USAID that there were 61 teachers assigned to each school, on average, but SIGAR inspectors found an average of 18 in the facilities they visited.

The physical condition of the school building were also, in general, bad. “Less than half of the schools had reliable electricity, and two facilities lacked access to a clean source of water. Additionally, we found schools that had structural and utility deficiencies that could endanger students, teachers, and other occupants.”

“Given that USAID has spent millions of dollars on the construction and rehabilitation of Afghan schools, and continues to spend millions of dollars on teacher training and salaries (through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund), the agency has a clear interest in ensuring that the improvements it reports in the Afghan education sector are based on actual attendance, rather than on potentially inflated figures.”