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Press release

Half a million kids go back to school in Afghanistan

More than 500,000 children expected to return to classrooms in “warm-weather” locations

KABUL, 9 September 2004 – As millions of schoolchildren across the world return to the classroom this week, an anticipated half a million boys and girls from the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan will also be going back to study, as the second annual phase of the country’s Back to School campaign begins.

Afghanistan has two academic years – one running from March until December in areas affected by cold winters, and the second beginning in September in areas where the summers are too hot to hold classes. Most of these “warm weather” schools are in the south and east of Afghanistan.

The Afghan Ministry of Education, supported by UNICEF, has been mobilizing supplies of learning and teaching materials for some 580,000 children and 5,500 teachers during the last two months in preparation for the September return. A number of special events have been held this week to promote the importance of education – especially for girls. Girls’ enrolment in the southern and eastern provinces is amongst the lowest in Afghanistan. Of the five provinces with lowest enrolment rates in the country, three are in the south and one in the east. It is against this background that local officials are making extra efforts to promote girls’ education to communities.

In Nimroz province, one of the most isolated areas of the country, Back to School celebrations were held at Naswani Zaranj Girls’ School on Sunday 5 September. The Deputy Governor of Nimroz was accompanied by all Provincial Education Staff, teachers, students, Heads of Provincial Government Departments, and representatives of international organizations. The focus of the event was on the importance of education in society, the significance of girls’ participation in the education system and the role of education in ensuring a peaceful and prosperous future for Afghanistan.

In Helmand Province, a southern province where only 10 percent of primary school aged girls are enrolled in classes, the new school term was celebrated at Naswan Girls’ School in Bust City on 6 September, where the provincial Deputy Governor also encouraged local communities to enroll all children, particularly girls, in school.

On 12 September, further celebrations are planned for Kandahar Province.

Afghanistan has seen a steady increase in the number of children attending school since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Today, more than four million children are enrolled in classes – one-third of them are girls. Surveys in 2003 showed that net primary girls’ enrolment rates had reached at least 35 percent, and there are indications that Afghanistan could reach the Millennium Development Goal of gender parity in education by 2005.

Despite these successes, several key obstacles remain in the path of progress. More than one million girls of primary school age are still not attending school. The reasons for this are varied; distance between home and the schoolroom, inadequate facilities in those schools that do exist, and a perception that education has no value for some families. To tackle these challenges, UNICEF and the Afghan Ministry of Education are working together to develop a programme of community-based schools; using existing community facilities such as mosques and private homes in villages without a formal schoolhouse and providing rapid basic training to women from the community to serve as teachers, while at the same time providing standard books, stationery and teaching materials as well as water and sanitation points. UNICEF is also assisting with improvements in the physical standards of existing schools, providing safe water points and latrines to more than 500 primary schools to date in 2004, while working with sister agency UNOPS to construct 149 new primary schools so far this year. UNICEF is working on the quality of teachers in Afghanistan, in an innovative partnership with the Ministry of Education and Columbia University Teachers' College; textbooks for all primary level subjects are being redesigned to make them more student-focused, and a new teacher training programme - linked for the first time to national standards and accreditation of teachers - is being developed. The first new textbooks will be field-tested in October, in the run-up to the new academic year starting in March 2005.

The Back to School operation in Afghanistan is being generously supported by contributions from several donors including Denmark, Sweden and the United States.

For further information please contact:

Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Media - +93 (0)7960 7400, ecarwardine@unicef.org




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