By G. A. Volb
NTM-A Public Affairs
KABUL – With more than 99,000 soldiers and police already touched by the Afghan National Security Force Literacy Program, the goal of professionalizing security forces here is gaining momentum.
Currently, some 83,000 members of the Afghan National Security Force are taking literacy lessons in training centers, Kandaks, police headquarters, police stations or checkpoints all over the country.
“The goal of the program is to bring functional literacy – and that includes numeracy – to the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army,” said U.K. Maj. Jeremy Burnan, chief of the literacy branch for NTM-A. “All police and army recruits take literacy classes in their basic training. The aim is to achieve the first level of literacy competence, and this is fulfilled in 64 hours of instruction.”
According to the major, class sizes vary considerably.
“We aim not to have a class bigger than 33, but there is no minimum size,” said Burnan, originally from Bath, U.K. “So in one place we will teach 33 and in another we may have only a small handful.”
The trick is to bring classes to the “troops.” And Burnan said they’re doing just that, teaching in more than 700 locations nationwide.
“The biggest group now taking classes in one place is about 5,600,” he noted, which is at Kabul Military Training Center. “But, they do have lessons at different times.”
Burnan leads a team of 13 coalition military, Afghan civilian and U.S. civilians in the management of the program. More than 2,000 teachers currently teach literacy.
In its current form the program has been running since September 2010. Since October 2009 there had been a program running under NTM-A contracted arrangements, but prior to that, there had been a number of small programs delivering literacy internally within the ANP and ANA.
All police and army recruits take literacy classes in their basic training. The aim is to achieve the first (foundation) level of literacy competence, and this is fulfilled in 64 hours of instruction. To progress one student from illiteracy to the first-grade level costs approximately $30.
“Soldiers and policemen are very proud of their new-found skill,” said Burnan. “We know of policemen who go home after their daily lessons in their station and gather their families and friends around to teach them what they have learned that day. We also know of a soldier who was so intent to become literate that he signed up for lessons three times, twice under pretend names. No amount of rhetoric can replace the dozens of stories we hear like this. And let’s not forget the instructors too – they are also proud of their role and achievements in making a difference to Afghanistan, and go to extraordinary lengths to provide their service on our behalf. We know of teachers going to lessons on donkeys, and student progress records being transported in the same way, by helicopter, and in one case by overnight bus in disguise.
“To a soldier, literacy is a ‘life and death matter,’” said Burnan. “I can count my ammunition – that’s a life and death matter. With literacy I can understand the orders of my commander; I can account for my equipment; I can read the writing on a map – that’s a life and death matter.”
He said there are added benefits for policemen as well.
“Literacy helps in upholding of the Rule of Law,” said Burnan. “Without literacy there are no civil rights, no accountability, no understanding of that Rule of Law. I can identify a person; I can write a report myself. I can describe an incident and write it down. I can read the Law – I am the complete policeman and twice the citizen.
“No longer will the training of policemen or soldiers need to be predicated on illiteracy,” emphasized Burnan. “Literacy will enhance the trainability of the Force, it will expand the methods by which techniques and knowledge can be learned. And in the field, it will enhance the ability of leaders to communicate with their men, and the men with their leaders.”
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