Revitalizing Education In Afghanistan


Publish Date:
August 12, 2014
  • Tobenkin, David
International Educator
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International Educator reports on the work of SLS' Afghan Legal Education Project and the effects of the project on legal education if Afghanistan. 

Devastation is rampant—Afghanistan has suffered from decades of isolation and war, capped by the U.S.-led invasions and control that began in 2001. Higher education has been among the major casualties in the country, with higher education personnel, infrastructure, and budgets depleted by the ongoing conflicts.

But partnerships between higher education institutions and organizations and their counterparts in Afghanistan formed in the last decade have proven a lifeline of support for their beleaguered academies.

The Afghan Legal Education Project (ALEP) collaboration between American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) in Kabul, a private university opened in 2006, and Stanford Law School’s Rule of Law Program is one of the longest standing collaborations in the region, dating from 2007. It started as a semester-long research project where a Stanford Law School team developed an introductory legal survey class for AUAF, which ultimately led to development and publication of at least five textbooks on legal issues. The books are initially published in English and later translated into Dari and Pashto, the two most commonly spoken languages in Afghanistan, says Eli Sugarman, a Stanford Law School graduate who was one of two cofounders of the project and now serves as an adviser to it.

Sugarman says that from 2007 to 2012, students at the AUAF were able to obtain a legal certificate, similar to a minor in law, but that they were not eligible to practice law upon graduation. That changed in 2012 when, with the help of a generous grant from the U.S. Department of State, ALEP and AUAF established a Department of Law offering a five-year bachelor of arts and law degree. The program has a full-time faculty of six, four of whom are Afghan, and offers up to11 classes per semester. Graduates of the degree program will be fully eligible to practice law in Afghanistan upon completion of their studies.

“The goal is to improve legal education nationwide,” says Sugarman. “You need to develop a large cohort of Afghans who can solve their own problems by using tradition and history, but also analytic skills and legal reasoning. Afghan legal experts have been involved in every step of the development of the ALEP materials and Afghan teachers teach it. Students are taught the laws of Afghanistan under the current constitutional order and its laws and regulations. Everyone acknowledges what is written and how system functions actually differ, and we examine why they don’t function as well as they should.”

The ALEP program is a rare exception to the one-way nature of student exchanges between U.S. and Afghan institutions. Through the program, at least two dozen Stanford students have visited Afghanistan to participate in the project, says Megan Karsh, a Stanford Law School Rule of Law fellow who helps administer the program.

This speaks to Stanford’s emphasis on sustainable collaboration and creating enduring work products. “Whereas some schools engage in a form of developmental tourism, where students travel to developing countries, meet with high-ranking officials, and leave little behind, ALEP students work with their counterparts at AUAF to create high quality textbooks that respond to a real demand from Afghan students and professors,” Karsh says.

The project has enjoyed two large grants, $1.3 million in 2009 and $7.2 million in 2012, through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Sugarman says that the rather large second grant resulted after the ALEP program received positive evaluations by the State Department. “They measured the impact,” Sugarman says. “How many textbooks and products we were putting out, how many people were exposed to them, how many government ministries made use of them. There are qualitative metrics. In the Rule of Law space, it is more complicated; there are qualitative metrics that involve interviews of participants to see how the instruction impacted their skills and how they used those skills.”

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