In 1969 Afghanistan tried its hand at compulsory public education for children between the ages of 7 and 15, but the initiative never had a chance to grow roots. When the Soviets invaded 10 years later, many programs, including compulsory public education, were terminated. Prior to 1969, education was purely at the discretion of the family. Even then, much of the education offered concentrated on rote memory of the Quran, and was reserved for males only.
Families that elected not to send their children to school often did so out of a need for extra hands to maintain the household and field duties. Dari is the language of the educated in Afghanistan. Regardless of their ethnicity, if a family could pool the resources to send their children through an extensive education, they would become fluent in the Dari language. But after the Soviet withdrawal, any semblance of public education disappeared. Even Kabul University closed its doors. The Taliban had a very different approach to education. Outside of religious education for boys only, public education was forbidden, especially for girls. The result of the last three decades is a literacy rate less than 40%. Most of the literate were concentrated in urban areas, while rural locations accounted for less than 10% of the literate.