CREATIVE In Afghanistan 10 Years and Counting…

Julio Ramirez De Arellano
BESST Chief of Party, 2006-2011

The many faces of Afghanistan.

The Beginning of Creative’s Presence in Afghanistan

November 29, 2011

It all started the morning of September 11, 2001, right after the fall of the Twin Towers, there was sadness, fatalism, a feeling that maybe Creative’s work in development was over. Employees were called for a meeting, just to have a moment of reflection together. Creative had a much more optimistic approach. It did not see this as the end of supporting the people and countries where development was most needed. Instead, Creative had the vision of building bridges, of creating stronger relations with the people of countries where there was desperate need for support to have better lives, better education, better health, whether or not those countries were those where the attacks came from. This was the origin of the idea to work in Afghanistan. At that time Creative Associates was not working there or in any other country in that region.

Creative Associates, for over eight years, has been supporting education in Afghanistan. Impressive results have been obtained working together with the Ministry of Education (MoE) and a number of national NGOs. Under the first project, APEP, 170,000 over-age students had the opportunity of going back to school by participating in an Accelerated Learning Program; 6.2 million textbooks were printed, and 8,701 teachers got training through a distance learning program. Under BESST, the second large education project in Afghanistan that Creative managed, over 80,000 teachers and school managers participated in in-service training to improve their teaching skills, the mastering of the subjects they teach, and, for the school managers, to improve the skills needed to run a school. BESST also helped to develop capacity of MoE employees and provided grants to improve educational conditions of school located in areas most affected by the conflict, contributing in this way to stabilization those communities. These interventions helped significantly improve the quality of education especially in the provinces where the project operated, and, indirectly, in the entire country through the National Program for In Service Teacher Training that, using the same methodology and materials than BESST, provided training to the rest of the teachers and school managers in the entire country.

The conflict environment in which Creative operated to implement these projects required flexibility and creativity to adjust to the difficult conditions. It is not possible to work in local communities, rural or urban, without having an inside knowledge of their people, culture, traditions, and religion; without being known and accepted by the people. Creative developed strong relations with local organizations to reach the level of trust that enabled Creative to do productive development work and provide significant support to education in Afghanistan.

Because of the conflict environment Creative also developed good and innovative monitoring systems. When it is very difficult or impossible to have direct presence where the activities are being implemented, a reliable monitoring system is required to have evidence of the quality of implementation.

Education after the fall of the Taliban

One of the most significant advances that Afghanistan experienced after the fall of the Taliban was in the field of education.

By the time the Taliban regime ended, after 25 years of internal conflict, Afghanistan had all the characteristics of a failed state: a government that was just defeated, an economy in ruins, and destroyed physical and social infrastructure.1 “Roads, businesses, homes, schools, clinics were either destroyed or badly neglected. Only small sections of urban areas had electrical power, and potable water was scarce. Every sector of the economy, including agriculture, energy, industry, and social services, was in dire need of rebuilding. Civil society institutions, including the parliament, the courts, much of the civil service, and most of the education and health systems, had been destroyed.“2 The UNDP Human Development Index of 2004 ranked Afghanistan 173rd out of 178 nations.

The Taliban regime left Afghanistan with one of the worst education systems in the world and with a literacy rate of only around 28%. In some areas of the country over 60% of children and 80% of girls were not attending to school. Close to 80% of the 6,900 school were damaged, most of them in no condition to be used. Less than half of the existing teachers had attended high school. Because of Taliban rules prohibiting women from attending universities and working outside their homes except for health workers, the number of female teachers was extremely low. Most teachers used memorization as the only way of learning and they did not master the subjects they were supposed to teach. Textbooks were nonexistent, teachers were unpaid and there was no school supervision.

Afghan people were eager to give their children the possibility to go to school and get an education. But also having children in school had a symbolic value: it showed there was a government in the country and education was seen as a sign of stability. Very soon after the fall of the Taliban the Afghan government responded to this need by immensely increasing access to education. The Ministry of Education, with the technical assistance of UNICEF, launched a “Back to School” campaign in 2002. The target was to enroll 1.5 million children that year, but enrollment got up to 3 million in grades 1 through 12. The following year, enrollment reached 4.2 million. 90% of those enrolled corresponded to primary education, with 57% in grades 1 and 2. This dramatic increase in the school population had many implications, both from the physical side with the lack of school buildings, school furniture and textbooks, and from the teaching side of not having enough teachers to respond to the increased demand and with the existing teachers not having the required education and preparation to teach.


In this context USAID came up with the Afghanistan Primary Education Program (APEP) to give opportunities to over aged children to return to schools by participating in an accelerated learning program, to provide textbooks to students of all grades, and to offer training to teachers.

Having already established a solid presence in the country it was not surprising that the project was awarded to Creative Associates. APEP started in January 23, 2003 and ended on December 30, 2006.

Implementing this project in a conflict environment was a learning experience for Creative. It was the first time that all the implementation was done by local NGOs which required providing substantial support and training. Because of the language, cultural barriers and security situation it was impossible to do direct implementation. The only feasible way was to work in partnership with local organizations. At that time not many NGOs were operating in Afghanistan. Those that existed did not have experience working with large international organizations and receiving foreign funding. They had never had USAID funding before. All of them were capable of implementing development/education programs but needed a lot of capacity building. They had potential but not the skills and experience to work with internationally funded projects. They all had contacts and activities in different provinces, so they were assigned to work where they had presence. In addition to learning to work with local implementing partners, Creative learned how to operate under very unsecure conditions requiring having professional security services, which was never needed before.

Accelerated Learning: For the implementation of the Accelerated Learning component of APEP Creative worked with five national NGOs as its implementing partners: Afghan Development Association (ADA), Afghan Women’s Educational Center (AWEC), Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (CHA), Coordination of Afghan Relief (CoAR), and Development and Humanitarian Services for Afghanistan (DHSA).

Approximately 170,000 students participated in the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP), 10,000 per province in 17 provinces. 55% of these participants were females and 44.3% males. The program trained 8,701 teachers, of whom 2974 were women and 5,727 men. ALP was designed as a post-emergency program, to last for only three years with the purpose to enable over aged children outside the school system to catch up and re-enter regular schooling. To participate in the program, priority was given to girls. The program followed the Ministry of Education curriculum and used official textbooks.

Textbooks: During 2005, APEP printed 6.2 million textbooks using only Afghan printing companies. It was the first time that such a large number of copies were printed entirely in the country.

Radio based Teacher Training: This component broadcasted daily programs, nationwide, with an entertaining format to expose teachers to learner-centered teaching strategies that can be applicable to all subject in the curriculum. The primary target of these programs was teachers of primary schools, especially women and those in remote rural areas. Programs were broadcasted by approximate 50 radio stations. 8,701 teachers were trained through these radio programs,

By the end of 2005, most of the project goals had been met. The components focused on building capacity of both Ministries of Education closed by December 2005. Textbooks and Radio Teacher Training were granted no-cost extensions until March 2006.


After the success of the “Back to School” campaign with enrollment increased to over 6 million children, the efforts to build new schools and to repair those in bad shape, and the efforts to provide textbooks to all children in school, there was still a critical need for better qualified teachers to provide quality education to that immensely increased number of students. Most teachers still had very low educational background, with limited knowledge and skills in how to teach (pedagogy) and what to teach (content).

Responding to these needs, at the beginning of 2006, USAID funded the project Building Education Support Systems for Teachers, a five years, 100 million dollar project, with the purpose of improving the quality of education in Afghanistan through in-service teacher training for all teachers in eleven provinces of the country and to support the Ministry of Education in its efforts to improve work conditions for teachers.

Actually, the teacher and school managers’ in-service training component was part of the Ministry of Education National Program for In-Service Teacher Training (NPITT) managed by the Teacher Education Directorate and funded by World Bank for the rest of the country’s provinces.

BESST had two main components: one focused on in-service training for teachers and school managers, and the other on assisting the MoE to strengthen systems that support teachers, the quality of instruction, and their work conditions.

The first component offered face-to-face in-service training for teachers and school managers, an Accelerated Learning Program for Teachers who had not completed 12 years of education to enable them to have access to Teacher Training Colleges, a supplementary radio teacher training program, an in-school support system for teachers and school managers to follow up and reinforce face-to-face training, and a grant program to provide schools with infrastructure and equipment needed to improve their learning environment.

Under the second component BESST provided technical assistance to the MoE to develop policies and plans to improve teacher work conditions, to assist with education reform, to build capacity of MoE’s Human Resources staff and to improve teacher training and standardization of credentials. Also BESST facilitated coordination and cooperation with and among teacher training providers and other education stakeholders.

During the implementation of the project over 80,000 teachers and school managers participated in one or more training activities offered by BESST. An Accelerated Learning Program for Teachers was designed and implemented including the production of five teacher guides with 56,500 copies distributed, the establishment of a computerized testing center, and an initial group of teachers already participating in tutoring classes to prepare for the accreditation tests. Also, during the life of the project a Supplementary Radio Teacher Training Program broadcast 43,254 lessons in 11 provinces where BESST worked and in 14 additional provinces outside areas covered by BESST.

In order to train such a large number of teachers and school administrators, BESST used a cascade system. All the training was done by implementing partners. Creative worked with the same five national NGOs as it did with APEP, plus two international organizations: Save the Children and MSS for the distance education component. To reduce the risk of losing quality going down the cascade, the project developed very prescriptive training sessions to be replicated exactly in every step of the cascade. BESST also appointed monitors in every province to visit the training sites to support trainers and make sure that training was being done according to the design and training they had received.

According to the Impact Assessments carried out by BESST there was 35% increase in teachers surpassing minimal performance levels among those who completed INSET training. Among the teachers who did listen regularly to the RTT broadcasts, there was a steady increase in the percentage of teachers who met or exceeded minimum performance levels, rising from 63 percent in 2008 to 70 percent in 2009 to 77 percent in 2010. Among school principals who successfully completed the 2008 SMT training, there was an overall 31% increase—from 58 percent to 76 percent—in the percentage of school managers meeting or surpassing minimum performance levels since the baseline was established. It is estimated that more than 2.7 million children benefitted from BESST supported in-service training programs.

Education a way to the future.

What we Have Learned

Through supporting education in Afghanistan, Creative Associates confirmed what it knew from the beginning of its work in development: development work is a two way street, it is a process of giving and receiving, of teaching and learning that is obtained by working in partnership with local public and private organizations that have similar visions and pursue similar goals.

Working together is the basis for the “two way street” to happen and in working together a lot of learning takes place. Creative learned about Afghanistan, its people, culture, traditions, religion, and the particular ways to work in that country; local partners learned how to work with international organizations and funders, rules and regulations, reporting, planning, minimal standards, and assessment systems. This interaction resulted in improved capacity both for Creative Associates and for the local organizations Creative was working with. Improved capacity is the basis for these organizations to continue working in development projects on their own. It is the basis for sustainability.

Working in partnership with local organizations made it possible for Creative Associates to implement activities in support to education in a state of conflict and insecurity. This requires flexibility, adaptation, and investing time and efforts to develop capacity, but in the end, the capacity remains and allows local organizations to continue doing the work themselves, work that is an important contributing factor for stabilization and peace building.

1. See Moulton, Jeanne; Dall, Frank Delivering Education Services in Fragile States: Lessons from Four Case Studies Creative Associates International, Inc., 2006.

2. Idem, page 7

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