|© UNICEF Afghanistan/Zaidi|
|UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Karin Sham Poo gives a prize at the launch of new academic year in Afghanistan.|
The annual "Back to School" celebration was held in Kabul's Amani High School, and included the presentation of prizes to the top students from across Afghanistan in 2003.
In her speech to the assembled guests, Ms Sham Poo underlined the importance of girls' education in a country recovering from nearly 30 years of conflict and international isolation.
"Since 2002, we have seen the number of students enrolled in Afghanistan’s schools increase year upon year until the total has reached more than 4 four million. There are more children in school today than ever before in Afghanistan’s history. Most heartening has been the return of girls to the classroom," she said.
"Last year, 1.2 million girls were attending school. The progress made for girls and women in the education sector has been almost unparalleled – in just two years, ladies and gentlemen, Afghanistan has wiped out a seven year education deficit. Education for both girls and boys has become a central pillar of the reconstruction process," she said.
Ms Sham Poo also took the opportunity to assure the people of Afghanistan of UNICEF's long-term commitment to rebuilding education, saying "For too long Afghanistan stood isolated from the rest of the world. Today, education for all – girls and boys – is the best way for Afghanistan to take its place on the world’s stage once more. Education is the prerequisite for economic and social development. Education is the catalyst for peace and stability. Education is the road that will lead Afghanistan to strength, unity and prosperity.It is my pleasure and privilege to be here with you today, as you take another step along that path."
In a rousing address, Minister Qanooni pledged his determination to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals for education, claiming that by 2015 literacy rates would rise to at least 65 per cent of the Afghan population, and that girls' enrolment would leap to 95 per cent of the school age female population.
Last year more than four million children returned to Afghanistan's classroom, including 1.2 million girls. An estimated 5.5 million children are expected to enrol for classes in 2004. UNICEF has pledged its support to assisting one million girls to go back to school this academic year, while developing programmes for teacher training, curriculum development and physical improvements to schools.