In the name of God, the Most Benevolent, the Most Merciful

Honorable Chairperson, distinguished guests, representatives of state members of UNESCO, Heads and representatives of International Organizations, ladies and gentlemen! Please accept my warmest greetings.
At the beginning, I would like to sincerely thank the scientific, cultural and educational agency of the United Nations (UNESCO), especially Ms. Ireena Bokowa the General Director of UNESCO and her colleagues for organizing of this event. I want to thank her serious efforts and attention to cultural and educational issues, especially literacy at global level that is a precondition for development, stability, peace and security. As assessment of the situation in the developed countries shows, progress happened there when literacy and pursuit of knowledge turned into a culture and a necessity for modern life. Looking at world’s experiences regarding literacy, especially experiences of countries that were successful in achieving sustainable growth, prove that they put literacy as an undeniable right of humans and the main factor in progress and development. Importance of education and literacy for all is so high that today is counted as one of the indicators of development besides life expectancy and welfare.

Honorable Chairperson and dear participants!
Using the opportunity, I would like to inform you about the opportunities, challenges, pledges, and solutions the government of Afghanistan is having in its literacy engagements, and refer to the following points:
• I am coming from a country that unfortunately besides all problems such as armed conflict, poverty, terrorism, unemployment, and refugees, has illiteracy as a huge and widespread problem. Afghanistan is ranked as one of the lowest among the other countries in terms of education. According to official and non-official statistics, literacy percentage among Afghans who are above 15 years old is around 36 percent and illiteracy is around 64 percent. And female illiteracy is estimated around 80 percent and male illiteracy is 50 percent. If we consider the differences in different provinces of Afghanistan, it increases illiteracy among the women to another 1 percent.

My country had a glorious history and civilization in the past. Hundreds of famous and lasting names of philosophers, scientists, poets, cultural activists and artists of the human history belong to the land and geographical area that today is called Afghanistan. We believe a big part of the pains that we are having today, including illiteracy of the afghan citizen, are results of the developments that were imposed upon us in the recent history. Because of its geopolitical and geostrategic location, Afghanistan has recently been a victim of objectives and games of the regional and global powers that pursue their conflicting interests.

• However, fortunately, despite all the difficulties, pains and hardships whether inside Afghanistan or abroad, the Afghan people are now pursuing literacy and knowledge that introduces a golden opportunity for positive development and progress at national level. The Afghan government and the International Community, as close and permanent partners, are also doing serious efforts and pay great attention to this interest and motive of the Afghan citizens. Understanding the necessity of genuine investments in literacy by the Afghan people and government and the international partners, and giving the right priority to literacy besides security and governance issues in the post-Taliban era, has been offering a very important opportunity for development of literacy in Afghanistan.

The Government of Afghanistan has had a positive performance regarding development of education after collapse of the Taliban regime. In 2002, less than one million boys were attending in 3400 schools and had 20,700 teachers, while no girls had the right to go to school. At that time, no nationally accepted curriculum or standard textbooks were existing. Also, only 22,000 male individuals could use literacy programs and no female could use such opportunities, and not even one female teacher taught in schools. However, after Taliban, these figures sharply increased and today we have around ten million persons that are studying in more than 15,000 schools, while around 37 percent of them are girls. Now we have more than 170,000 school teachers and around 30 percent of them are female teachers.

• Nonetheless, despite all these achievements, we should accept that we are still facing many problems. War and insecurity, widespread poverty, lack of buildings and physical facilities in more than 50 percent of the schools, lack of professional teachers, lack of educational equipment and materials, and radical and anti-scientific approaches from certain circles are among the most difficult problems and challenges that are facing education in Afghanistan. Despite the continuous fight of the Afghan government and our international friends against terrorism, my country is still witnessing wars and insecurity. One of the most important targets for Taliban and other terrorists is the education sector, especially education for girls. Unfortunately, we are witnessing that schools are burned every day. Besides security problems, the widespread poverty is also preventing three million children to attend schools. Also, from among around 15,000 schools in Afghanistan, more than half of them don’t have any buildings and students are studying in nearby mosques, rented houses, under trees, or inside tents.

• The Afghan government, while having a strong political will for establishing an enduring peace and a stable society, is having big plans and strategies in all arenas, especially for education and literacy. Making proper plans and resorting to specific strategies for fighting against illiteracy are of utmost of importance for us. The National Literacy Committee, that is chaired by myself, and the Provincial and District Level Literacy Committees are established and Ministry of Education of Afghanistan has a special Deputy Minister that is tasked only with literacy and has a National Literacy Strategy for 2014 to 2020. According to the related plans, the Afghan Ministry of Education is making serious efforts towards thorough implementation of this strategy and providing literacy trainers in cities and villages, arranging curriculum and educational materials, preparation and printing of textbooks and other materials, identification of best educational practices and methodologies, evaluation and certification of literacy programs based on the official policies of the government, and exact monitoring and evaluation of the literacy process in the country. The expected result of this plan is that the literacy in Afghanistan should be increased to 60 percent; and if such a things happens, it means that we achieved a major progress.

• Establishment of effective and practical laws is also a very important solution for fighting against illiteracy. Making the education as mandatory for children providing more incentives for recruitment of teachers and salary increase for those who become literate at adult ages are among some of the most important plans for the Afghan government. I, as the Vice President of Afghanistan who is leading the Legal Committee, the Judicial Committee, the National Literacy Committee, the National Gender and Women Affairs Committee, and the Youth Affairs Committee of the Cabinet of Afghanistan, will do my best to introduce and implement the necessary laws, regulations and plans with cooperation of the Afghan Ministry of Education and other relevant entities.
Renovation and correction of the educational structure is among the most important priorities of the government of Afghanistan. We understand that the Afghan education sector is old and insufficient and will do our best to improve the existing approach towards literacy while correcting the educational structure. In the past, a literate person was considered someone who had the ability to read, write and calculate, but we want to change this definition and consider someone as literate who besides having these three main skills is able to meaningfully participate in determining his/her destiny and engage in the affairs related to progress and development of the society.
• Further to what has been said, the government of Afghanistan plans to resort to introduction of incentives for those religious and civil society entities, media outlets, benevolent persons, charities, private schools, and anyone who is working for literacy in the country; and to pave the way for a major public movement for literacy. While pursuing this objective and in order to create a balance in educational programs, it is very important that special attention be paid to special social groups that include a considerable number of the citizens and are faced with huge limitations and deprivations. These social groups include women, lingual minorities, disabled persons, members of the Afghan National Army and Police, nomads, and such other people that are referred to in the 44th Article of Afghanistan’s Constitution.

Honorable Chairperson and the distinguished guest!
The government of Afghanistan is still fighting an un-announced war against terrorism that has its roots outside of the Afghan soil and is facing with thousands of radical terrorists who come from different areas of the world. Therefore, we are at the forefront of the war with terrorism. Furthermore, we also inherited large scale destructions of the long years of the past. In such grave circumstances, fighting against illiteracy cannot succeed if Afghanistan is left alone. In this regards, our expectation from the International Community, friendly countries, and international organizations is that besides their serious comprehensive support to Afghanistan in fight against terrorism and forcing the supporters of Taliban and the ISIS to stop and pushing them to the table of peace negotiations, to stand with the government and people of Afghanistan in their fight against illiteracy and to improve the educational system. If we stand firm with each other and work shoulder to shoulder, we can destroy the roots of illiteracy and as a consequence we can defeat terrorism and radicalism.
At the end, I should mention that many countries have done great cooperation with us such as Japan that had programs in 17 provinces, Sweden in 10 provinces, and Finland in 3 provinces of Afghanistan. Korea also pledged to support us in the remaining 4 provinces of the country. Other entities such as the UN agencies, especially the UNESCO and the UNICEF, JICA, National Federation of Japan’s UNESCO, Agha Khan Foundation, and other international organizations have also had outstanding activities and cooperation in support of literacy in the country. I want to use this opportunity and thank all those who helped us in the area and request other international friends to support us in this important arena, because development of literacy in Afghanistan is a main factor that helps us in achieving our common goal that is international stability and security. We believe that until the light of science and culture is not shining at the global level, we will continue to face a cycle of crisis. Achieving such a goal cannot be done by the Afghan government alone, and it demands a global strong will.

Thank you for your attention
Sarwar Danesh
Second Vice President of Afghanistan