As Afghanistan raises an army, first lessons are on how to read, write


Preparing for 2014, when international troops are set to withdraw from the country, Afghanistan is raising what will be among the newest armies in the world from scratch — literally. One of the first lessons its young recruits are imparted is on how to read and write. In 2009, when the training process started, over 86 per cent of the recruits were found to be illiterate.

Colonel Mike Minor calls the literacy initiative "a cornerstone activity" at the Kabul Military Training Centre (KMTC). While Minor, a Canadian, heads the international training advisory group at the centre, the training to raise the Afghan National Army is led by Afghans themselves. A large number of the training officials are war veterans.

In 2009, because of the low levels of literacy, less than 35 per cent could pass weapon qualification.

Islamuddin Faizi, a retired army officer, heads the literacy operation, with 100 "trainers" teaching young recruits in 40 makeshift classrooms within the KMTC.

The aim is very modest — reaading, writing and basic arithmetic. Recruits who put in 64 hours of lessons, apart from the initial army training, can pass Grade-I (Class I) and move to their units. Those who want can undergo 128 hours of lessons for Grade-II and those further keen can take up another 120 hours of lessons for Grade-III. The aim is to secure 100 per cent literacy among recruits by the end of this year.

"I think it is no secret that any country with no education faces such challenges," says Brigadier General Aminullah Patyani, an Afghan war veteran, who heads the KMTC.

"Apart from it (literacy lessons) being an effort at building the nation at the grassroot level, it is also a big recruitment draw for the Army," Faizi says, who is proud of his contribution towards helping "Afghanistan resurrect itself".

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