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On Int'l Women's Day, Afghanistan's girls catch up on lost years

Accelerated learning activities reach 45,000 children during winter school break

KABUL, 7 March 2004 – As Afghanistan prepares to celebrate International Women’s Day on Monday 8 March, the United Nations Children’s Fund has announced that more than 45,000 children – over 80 per cent of them girls – have benefited from special accelerated learning classes organized during the winter school vacation.

The winter accelerated learning programme, managed by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education and implemented by the NGO BRAC, took place in five provinces of the country over the last three months. Just over 37,000 participants, 81 per cent of enrolled students, were girls.

The accelerated learning programme is designed to assist children who have missed out on significant periods of their education, and provide them with rapid “catch-up” classes to help them join the correct level of schooling when the new academic term begins on March 22nd. The programme is especially important for girls, many of whom missed up to seven years of schooling during the Taliban era, and in many cases have had to enrol in classes lower than other children of the same age. This mix of ages has made teaching more challenging, and has acted as a disincentive to many girls wishing to resume their studies.

UNICEF estimates that nearly 1.5 million primary school age girls are still not enrolled in Afghanistan’s schools. A recent study has shown that factors such as distance to schools, lack of proper facilities and shortages of female teachers all act as barriers to girls’ enrolment. Being an “over-age” girl in a classroom of younger students also discourages many girls from restarting their education. The accelerated learning programme, which focuses on the teaching of core language and mathematic subjects, can help students catch up on one or more grades of study in a short space of time. Teachers leading the courses have benefited from special training programmes to enable them to deliver the catch-up classes effectively. More than 1,500 teachers took part in this special training programme.

Experience from a smaller accelerated learning programme in the winter of 2002-2003 showed that 93 per cent of girl participants were able to enrol in formal classes the following March at least one grade higher than prior to taking part in the programme. UNICEF and its partners will be monitoring the enrolment level of those students who participated in the 2003 programme.

The accelerated learning programme is funded through generous contributions from Sweden, Austria, New Zealand and the Siemens Corporation. A second round of classes will be held in the summer, in southern provinces, where an estimated 28,000 children are scheduled to participate in the programme.

UNICEF Representative for Afghanistan, Dr. Sharad Sapra, said today “The success of the winter accelerated learning programme is a great boost to UNICEF’s efforts to further increase girls’ enrolment in schools across Afghanistan. There are more children attending schools in this country than ever before in its history, but we need to push still harder to ensure that every girl in Afghanistan benefits from the education that is her right.”

“We know from global experience that an educated girl has more opportunities than one who has not enjoyed proper schooling. She will be healthier, she will develop more quickly, she will be better placed to support herself and her family in adult life. She will be able to make a stronger contribution to the rebuilding of her country,” continued Dr. Sapra. “That is why we need to redouble our efforts to increase girls’ enrolment and take every step possible to make access to education easier for Afghanistan’s girls.”

For more information please contact: 

Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Media – Kabul +93 (0)702 74729




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