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M&E in Afghanistan: Overcoming Politicized Opposition to Honest Data

DME for Peace
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Author, Copyright Holder: Peter Simms

Children in Crisis (CIC) has worked in Kabul since the Taliban regime when we ran secret schools for Kabul’s girls, smuggling books and pencils through the checkpoints. Since that time Afghanistan has changed significantly, but many challenges remain to the work we do, and to performing meaningful M&E in the Afghan context.

One such challenge is trying to set benchmarks when there is politicized opposition to getting accurate information. Whether it’s national level data or local community information, accurate and verifiable information in Afghanistan is scarce. As an example, the population figure varies wildly, from the Government published figure of 25 million people, to the World Bank/UN’s estimate of well over 30 million. Considering the many challenges facing Afghanistan it might seem less than a priority to quibble over a population statistic. However, the difference can have considerable impact on the design, monitoring, and evaluation of projects at every level.

A difference of five million people, or put another way, a 20% variation, changes drastically the scale of the challenge of ensuring all children have access to education. Of this extra five million, even if we take a low estimate of 42% of people as being within the 0-14 age bracket, that’s over 2 million extra children requiring education now or within five years.

Considering the cost required to provide education to this group in a country of such scarce resources, population demographics suddenly becomes a highly political issue. If the Government were to scale up its population estimates in line with the UN their achievement towards international indicators would be jeopardised.

CiC has found that this politicalization of service delivery means the government is often unwilling to recognize the children we work with. To overcome this, we have found the following tactics useful, and recommend them for other organizations who provide community based education (CBE) in similar contexts.

  • Including the government as much as possible
  • Registering enrolment forms with the local police and the community council,
  • Submitting exam results for accreditation to the Ministry of Education,
  • Inviting inspectors to view facilities and assess the services provided.

By demanding this oversight we are able to avoid the Ministry later denying the existence of these children when it comes to their continuing education or that of their brothers and sisters in the same communities.

One of the largest challenges for M&E in Afghanistan is the fact that improved M&E systems may lead to an increase in the reporting of negative situations, and that reporting can be politically unpalatable. As an example, the number of Afghan civilians killed in 2014 was reported as being higher than at any point since the current conflict began, which should be a taken as a testament to the increasing ability and transparency in reporting civilian death rates above any significant alteration in the nature of the conflict. However, the report ultimately changes the perception of whether things are getting better or worse in the country – something that directly relates to the desire of donors and the general public to continue funding the country’s development.

There is a long road of progress ahead for education in Afghanistan. Many Donors working in Afghanistan view the value of education as increasing access to opportunity – and as therefore ultimately determined by economic return. Yet in Afghanistan lack of education is simply one of many barriers to opportunity, especially for girls. Evaluation of education interventions must take note of this, and work to assess perceptions not just of beneficiaries but of whole communities. Still, the marks of progress will be clearer and more meaningful if they are based on goals set by accurate and honest data.

Working without verifiable information makes M&E difficult. While the potential for M&E to be highly politicized is a constant challenge for NGOs in Afghanistan, when you’ve been there since the days of the Taliban no challenge is too great.


Peter Simms is the Program Manager in Afghanistan for Children in Crisis, a UK based NGO working to improve the lives of children in conflict and fragile states. Through education and child protection Children in Crisis helps children and their families live lives of dignity and of opportunity.