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Cablegate: Minister of Education Commits to Continuing Strong Usg

VZCZCXRO9490
RR RUEHDBU RUEHPW RUEHSL
DE RUEHBUL #0494/01 0400825
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 090825Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5482
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KABUL 000494

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ESTH SOCI AF
SUBJECT: MINISTER OF EDUCATION COMMITS TO CONTINUING STRONG USG
PARTNERSHIP BUT RAISES TOUGH QUESTIONS

REF: 09 KABUL 3907

1. (U) Summary: During Ambassador Eikenberry's February 1 courtesy
call on recently confirmed Minister of Education, Farooq Wardak, the
Minister provided a detailed presentation on Afghanistan's education
crisis. The presentation was filled with well-documented statistics
on the lack of educational opportunities - particularly in the
insurgent areas. Although Afghanistan has made progress, it
continues to have one of the lowest literacy rates in the world.
Moreover, the lack of educational opportunities for the growing
youth population is an exponentially increasing impediment to social
and economic progress and stability in Afghanistan. The Minister
questioned USG priorities, noting that the education sector receives
far less assistance than any other USG-supported sector. The
Ambassador noted that the USG is the largest contributor to
Afghanistan's educational sector and will work with the Ministry of
Education (MoE) to help improve donor coordination and the
Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) budget
prioritization. End Summary.

PERSONAL BACKGROUND
-------------------

2. (U) Wardak was easily confirmed in the first round of
Parliamentary voting with a vote of 120 yea, 93 Nay, and 18
Abstain/blank/spoiled. He is the Lead Minister for the Human
Resources Development Cluster, which includes participation by
Ministry of Higher Education, Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs,
Martyrs and Disabled, and the Ministry of Women's Affairs. A
popular Minister and consummate politician, the former Parliamentary
Affairs Minister knew his way around the political scene when he was
first appointed Minister of Education in October 2008. A doctor by
training, Wardak left the country during the Soviet-backed regime
and returned in order to provide medical assistance to war-wounded
Afghans. He worked for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan (SCA)
for a decade, as a deputy and as director of its health program,
which was the largest health care provider at the time in
Afghanistan. He also holds a Master of Business Administration
(MBA) from the University of Preston.

THE MINISTER'S POWERPOINT: HARBINGER OF DOOM?
---------------------------------------------

3. (U) The Minister's presentation began with an historical overview
of the education system. After years of conflict and the draconian
measures placed on the education system during the Taliban years,
primary and secondary education in 2002 was devastated. Female
participation in education was almost non-existent. Less than one
million children attended school and there were only around 3,200
schools in the country and 20,000 teachers. These teachers were
unfamiliar with modern content or teaching methodologies. Thanks in
large part to USG assistance, enrollment has increased to seven
million and the number of teachers has expanded to over 175,000.
The number of teacher trainees has increased over a hundred times.
There are now over 10,000 primary and secondary schools in the
country. Female participation in education at all levels is at the
highest in Afghanistan's history. In addition, primary school
students are learning a modernized Afghan curriculum.

4. (U) The major challenge, Wardak noted, was "the ticking time bomb
that no donor has yet addressed the growing demand for education in
Afghanistan." Only 42% of children have access to education -
leaving five million Afghan children without access who account for
6.6% of the world's total out-of-school children. Wardak also
focused on challenges for the growing number of secondary school
graduates who have nowhere to continue their education. The
secondary school system is producing an ever-increasing number of
graduates: 79,000 this year with projections for up to 900,000 a
year by 2020. The university system can only absorb 20% of grade 12
graduates. Meanwhile, technical high schools cannot enroll
sufficient numbers of students to keep up with demand for skilled
workers.

5. (U) Minister Wardak was worried the lack of educational
opportunities could have destabilizing effects. He reiterated his
frustration that donors were not providing more support to education
and noted that insufficient attention to this area could undo gains
in other sectors. The Minister also presented compelling statistics
demonstrating that education in the 17 most insecure provinces is
not keeping pace with the more secure areas of the country. He
noted that lack of education makes these provinces a breeding ground
for insurgent recruitment. Making matters worse in these 17
provinces is that, regardless of the demand for education, only 223
of 673 schools closed by insurgents have been re-opened, leaving
thousands of children without hope for improving the lives of their
families.

6. (U) The Minister's presentation concluded with 14 key priorities
for increasing educational opportunities for 2010 and beyond.
Wardak focused on building more schools to "eliminate the culture of
the tent" (a reference to the typical school facility in many parts

KABUL 00000494 002 OF 003


of the country) and training more teachers to keep up with the
incredible youth explosion taking place in Afghanistan. The MoE
estimates that Afghanistan needs 160,000 new teachers by 2014 to
keep pace with current demand for education as Afghanistan's
school-age population grew by more than three percent (or 250,000
children) last year. Even if the insurgents stopped destroying
schools and obstructing attendance, the government would face a
monumental challenge in furnishing enough classrooms and teachers
for this burgeoning generation. (NOTE: These issues were previously
reported in reftel 12958).

ON THE SPOT IDEAS
-----------------

7. (U) The Minister concluded his presentation with a proposal for
USG assistance - totaling almost four times the current education
budget. Ambassador Eikenberry noted that the USG developmental
assistance budget for Afghanistan was at historic highs and outlays
for the education sector significant. He acknowledged that both the
Afghan health and education sectors could benefit from further
investments, especially in light of Minister Wardak's compelling
plan. The Ambassador proposed that the USG take the lead in Kabul
in assembling the major potential donors, especially Japan to
discuss MoE plans and requirements.

8. (U) Ambassador Eikenberry encouraged the MoE and the GIRoA to
develop internal solutions to the budgetary shortfalls in education.
He noted that between 2003 and 2006 the GIRoA had higher budget
execution rates; however, in 2007 implementation began to slow down
leaving ministries with large amounts of unspent money. He wondered
if the Ministry of Finance (MoF) could transfer unused funds to meet
budget shortfalls in education and health. The Ambassador further
noted that it is important for the MoE to focus on building its
capacity to receive direct USG funding as was done by the Ministry
of Public Health.

9. (U) Minister Wardak thanked the Ambassador, the USAID Mission
Director and the USG Education Team for all of their assistance, but
expressed some frustration with the USG's relatively low level of
assistance to education compared to other sectors. He noted that
education is the prerequisite to success in other sectors and to
underfund it is to undo the sustainability of other commitments.
The Ambassador and USAID Mission Director noted that USG investments
in education are somewhat understated since the District Delivery
Program (DDP) also contributes to MoE efforts at the district level
as does some of the US Military's Commander's Emergency Response
Program funds (CERP) spending. They further emphasized the USG's
commitment to education as a long-term investment in the future of
Afghanistan. The extent of the contributions will become more
evident with further development of the DDP in the coming months.

CLOSED SESSION
--------------

10. (SBU) In a private meeting with the Minister, the Ambassador
noted the importance of the May Kabul Conference in which the GIRoA
will make a compact with its citizens about its commitments to them.
Since the event will be witnessed by many visiting dignitaries and
foreign governments it will be an excellent opportunity to showcase
to the world the progress Afghanistan has been made. The Ambassador
noted that while he is confident that the necessary policy outcomes
will be achieved at the conference, the showcasing of Kabul presents
a much larger challenge. He discussed using the opportunity to
present Kabul as a functioning city conducting business like most
other world capital to counter the incorrect image of Kabul as a
city of extremists and violence. Ambassador Eikenberry encouraged
Wardak to persuade Karzai to form a committee commensurate with this
important task. He added that GIRoA should have one committee
established to "unite papers" and another to "organize a diplomatic
Olympics" with the latter requiring an Afghan luminary to head it.
(NOTE: Post will continue to engage with Karzai and other leaders to
reinforce this message.)

11. (SBU) Ambassador Eikenberry also broached the subject of
Parliamentary Elections. He noted that the USG was satisfied that
security will be better than last year, and that the delay will
allow security arrangements to be solidified and provide opportunity
for further electoral reform. The Ambassador emphasized that the
USG was concerned about electoral reform and that Karzai must take
immediate action if there is to be any meaningful progress. He
commented that the expiration of the chairmanship of the Independent
Election Commission (IEC) might be an opportunity to change what
many donors consider to be one of Afghanistan's biggest impediments
to electoral reform. Ambassador Eikenberry concluded that the
reform process must remain collaborative - not confrontational.

12. (U) COMMENT: Minister Wardak continues to be an excellent ally
on many fronts. He remains a tireless promoter of education for all
in Afghanistan as well as a strong advocate for increased assistance
- volunteering to travel to the United States to meet with key
decision makers in the USG. Minister Wardak will be an increasingly

KABUL 00000494 003 OF 003


valuable friend as the Minister of Education and as the new Human
Resource Development cluster lead as Post sets it sights on a
successful 2010. END COMMENT.

EIKENBERRY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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