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New year of 'Back to School' for millions of Afghan children

KABUL, 18 March 2004 – Immediately following the country’s New Year festivities this weekend, up to 5.5 million school children are expected to return to their classrooms in Afghanistan, as the nation prepares for Back to School celebrations on Sunday 21 March.

Two years since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, enrolment levels in the country’s schools are higher than ever before in history – and the number of girls attending classes has leaped by over 30% since 2002.

The national Back to School celebrations will be led by His Excellency President Hamid Karzai and members of the Cabinet in a special event to be held at Amani High School in Kabul on Sunday 21 March, starting at 9.00 am. The President will be joined by UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director Karin Sham Poo along with members of the UN, diplomatic and NGO community in Afghanistan.

Speaking today, UNICEF’s Representative for Afghanistan Dr. Sharad Sapra looked forward to another year of education for Afghanistan’s children. “There are now more children in Afghanistan’s classrooms than ever before,” he said. “Moreover, the Government, along with its partners such as UNICEF and friends in the international community, has wiped out a seven year deficit in girls’ education. The people of Afghanistan cherish eduction, and are striving to see their children benefit from quality schooling in every community across the country.”

Last year, enrolment in schools rose to over 4 million children. 1.2 million students were girls. Despite that progress, UNICEF estimates that there are 1.5 million primary school age girls who are still not benefiting from education and the organization aims to assist 1 million of these children back into the classrooms in 2004. Key programmes to reach this target will include the development of community-based schools for 500,000 out-of-school girls, improved teacher training for 50,000 primary school teachers, accelerated learning programmes for girls who have missed several years of education, support to an updated curriculum, and a nationwide advocacy campaign that will be unveiled at the national Back to School ceremony on Sunday.

Key barriers to girls’ education in Afghanistan include distance from home to school-room, lack of adequate facilities, poor water and sanitation in schools, and the perceived low quality of teaching. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Education to address these issues and expects to see 5.5 million children return to school over the coming year.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Karin Sham Poo is starting a seven day visit to Afghanistan on Saturday 20 March, during which she will open Afghanistan’s fifth salt iodization plant in Jalalabad, inaugurate a new girls’ primary school in the south-east, and attend a workshop on children’s rights with religious leaders from four provinces in the east of Afghanistan. Ms. Sham Poo will also meet with key Government Ministers to review progress being made for women and children. She will also hold a press conference on Thursday 25 March following the UN press briefing at 10.00 am.

For more information please contact: 

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

Fast facts on education in Afghanistan

  • The demand for education continues with total enrolment in 2003 passing the 4 million mark
  • There has been a four-fold increase in student numbers since the fall of the Taliban. There are now more children in school than ever before in Afghanistan’s history.
  • Girls’ enrolment has leaped from an estimated gross enrolment rate of 3% prior to 2002 to 30% of all enrolled students in 2003. 
  • Girls’ enrolment in the crucial primary years is a little higher, at 35% of all enrolled students.
  • However, more than 1 million girls aged between 7 and 13 years are still not in school.
  • There are approximately 100,000 teachers registered in Afghanistan – however, less than 15% of teachers hold professional teacher training credentials.
  • Approximately 75% of schools were damaged during the three decades of conflict in Afghanistan.
  • Latest estimates indicate that more than 2,500 new schools a year need to be built for the next three years to accommodate the demand for education.
  • Student teacher ratios are in the region of 40:1 at primary, and 30:1 at secondary level

UNICEF support to education in 2003 

  • UNICEF supported the supply and distribution of learning and teaching materials for 4 million children and 80,000 primary school teachers.
  • UNICEF distributed over 10 million textbooks printed by the U.S. Government for grades 2 to 12.
  • UNICEF is supporting a comprehensive three-year reform of the curriculum at the primary level. The first textbooks for grades 1 and 4 will be introduced in the new school year beginning March 2004.
  • In a partnership with the UN Office of Project Services (UNOPS), UNICEF is rehabilitating and constructing 200 primary schools (to be completed March 2004), for 173,000 girls and boys.
  • To respond to the demand for temporary learning spaces in schools without adequate shelter for students and teachers, UNICEF has distributed approximately 12,000 classroom tents since 2002.
  • UNICEF supported the rehabilitation of the Ministry of Education’s main building and the offices of the Department of Literacy, including physical upgrades and installation of modern communications systems, computers, a library, curriculum resources, and professional teacher development aids.

Priorities in 2004

  • UNICEF will support the Ministry of Education to enrol an additional 1 million girls in school in 2004.
  • UNICEF will support an accelerated learning programme for 73,000 out-of-school girls and 2,600 teachers.
  • UNICEF will establish 10,000 classrooms for girls in villages without schools.\
  • UNICEF will provide teacher training, learning materials and facilities for community-based schools.
  • UNICEF will provide school supplies to 4.8 million children and 80,000 teachers.
  • UNICEF will continue to support the reform of the primary curriculum, completing text-books for Grades 1 to 4.\
  • UNICEF will provide orientation, training and support to 50,000 primary teachers and 8,000 headmasters responsible for implementing the new curriculum.




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