Afghanistan — NATO Trainers Increase Literacy in Afghan Forces

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2010 — A lot has been said about the impor­tance of train­ing Afghan forces in the NATO mis­sion there. But with an illit­er­a­cy rate reach­ing in some test groups high­er than 89 per­cent, how can one teach a large group of recruits to be engi­neers or logis­ti­cians?

Mike Faugh­nan, head of edu­ca­tion for the NATO Train­ing Mission-Afghanistan’s Com­bined Secu­ri­ty Tran­si­tion Com­mand, addressed the issue yes­ter­day on a DoDLive Blog­gers Round­table. In 2008, a lit­er­a­cy pro­gram was estab­lished to train new recruits and exist­ing mem­bers of Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces who are either illit­er­ate or don’t meet the 3rd-grade-lev­el math, read­ing and com­pre­hen­sion min­i­mum stan­dard.

About 25,000 Afghan per­son­nel cur­rent­ly are enrolled in the pro­gram; by July 2011 Faugh­nan expects to have 100,000 stu­dents enrolled. To date, about 4,300 Afghans have grad­u­at­ed from the pro­gram.

“Illit­er­a­cy is a prob­lem we have to tack­le if we intend to turn the ANSF into a mod­ern mil­i­tary and police force,” he said. “The impact of illit­er­a­cy that we see is an inabil­i­ty to per­form the mis­sions and duties of the army and police, lim­i­ta­tions in the types of train­ing we can pro­vide — every­thing has to be hands-on — and lim­i­ta­tions in the lev­els of train­ing. We can’t do any­thing more than train at the very basic lev­el in any of the fields that we work with.”

Faugh­nan faces a num­ber of chal­lenges in improv­ing Afghan lit­er­a­cy, but the biggest one by far is the stag­ger­ing num­ber of illit­er­ate recruits. Though the illit­er­a­cy rate among offi­cers is only about sev­en per­cent, among enlist­ed sol­diers the rate is upwards of 89 per­cent.

“I think the two biggest chal­lenges are the sheer scope of the prob­lem; the num­ber of recruits who require this train­ing,” he said. “The sec­ond chal­lenge is incor­po­rat­ing the lit­er­a­cy instruc­tion into the oper­a­tional require­ments of the field­ed force and the force in the train­ing base.”

The course requires 312 hours of instruc­tion — 64 hours of 1st-grade-lev­el edu­ca­tion, 128 hours to reach a 2nd-grade lev­el, and 120 hours after that to reach 3rd grade under­stand­ing and grad­u­ate, Faugh­nan said. The whole course can take as lit­tle as eight weeks, if mis­sion require­ments allow troops to attend eight hours of class dai­ly. Due to mis­sion require­ments, how­ev­er, most troops attend lit­er­a­cy class­es only an hour or so a day. On that sched­ule, he said, the course can take sev­en to eight months.

One method to help in spread­ing the train­ing is the way it’s set up. NTM‑A sends train­ers into the field to teach Dari and Pash­to, rather than cre­at­ing a cen­tral lit­er­a­cy school for thou­sands of troops to attend. Cur­rent­ly they have about 700 Afghan teach­ers; more will be hired in the future as more stu­dents enroll, Faugh­nan said.

“We are very flex­i­ble in the way we deliv­er [lit­er­a­cy train­ing], pre­fer­ring to get the train­ing to the stu­dents, how­ev­er the oper­a­tional com­mand can fit it into their sched­ule,” he said.

The Afghan Min­istry of Edu­ca­tion pro­vides the course mate­ri­als, adapt­ed from oth­er min­istry adult edu­ca­tion texts. They’re writ­ten, print­ed and dis­trib­uted by Afghans, then the cours­es are taught by Afghans, who make between $500 and $600 month­ly. Entry-lev­el Afghan sol­diers make about $240 month­ly, a liv­ing wage in the nation.

“Obvi­ous­ly, to meet the goals that we’ve estab­lished, we will be hir­ing some more [teach­ers]; I don’t think it’s real­ly going to be a prob­lem get­ting the num­ber of teach­ers we need,” Faugh­nan said. “I believe there are a suf­fi­cient num­ber of lit­er­ate Afghans who are look­ing for sta­ble work — we present a very good oppor­tu­ni­ty for them, as well.”

In the long term, Faugh­nan expects the pro­gram to stay in exis­tence as long as there’s a NATO pres­ence in the coun­try, unless the state of Afghan edu­ca­tion improves to where no large-scale adult lit­er­a­cy train­ing is nec­es­sary. He does­n’t think it will be a fac­tor in the July 2011 troop draw­down in Afghanistan.

“I don’t see that there would be a con­nec­tion between the lit­er­a­cy train­ing we pro­vide and any future draw­down,” Faugh­nan said. “The train­ing we pro­vide is real­ly focused on mak­ing the indi­vid­ual — and by exten­sion the ANSF — a much more effec­tive force.”

“At the min­i­mum, we’ll be doing this as long as [our troops are] here,” he added.

Faugh­nan said he expects the lit­er­a­cy pro­gram to lead to more wide­spread edu­ca­tion reform in Afghanistan, and ulti­mate­ly make sig­nif­i­cant inroads into the nation’s illit­er­a­cy prob­lem.

“The abil­i­ty to read and write opens the world to a host of pos­si­bil­i­ties that you can’t dream of until you have the capa­bil­i­ty,” he said. “As a con­se­quence, we think that this pro­gram is going to have far-reach­ing effects as new­ly lit­er­ate sol­diers return to their fam­i­lies and vil­lages with the capa­bil­i­ty to read and write.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)