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Afghanistan: Newsline

Communities 'stand up to violence' as the new school year begins

©UNICEF Afghanistan/2008/Sahil
Counsellor and Head of Office for the Swedish Embassy in Afghanistan Ann Marie Fallenius (left) and UNICEF Representative Catherine Mbengue (right) meet with a female student during the opening-day ceremony at Hawa School in Puli Khumri.

By Roshan Khadivi

KABUL, Afghanistan, 24 March 2008 – Afganistan continues to progress in the field of education, as more than six million children attended the first day of school last week – including approximately 800,000 children who are now enrolled for the first time in their lives.

Communities in war-torn Afghanistan have been working to overcome violence and other obstacles which can hinder children from attending school. Despite the often difficult environment, student enrolment in the country continues to rise.

“I salute the courage of the communities who are standing up to violence,” said UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue, during an opening day ceremony at the Hawa School in the northern town of Puli Khumri. “Communities recognize the value of learning and that is underlined by the millions of children who are returning to school or will start school for the first time today.”

At the Hawa school, Ms. Mbengue was joined by Counsellor and Head of Office for the Swedish Embassy in Afghanistan Ann Marie Fallenius. The ceremony emphasized a long-standing partnership and commitment to education.

“We are thrilled to have this partnership with UNICEF in support of education in Afghanistan,” said Ms. Fallenius.

Challenges in girls’ education

Despite success in sending children to school, gender disparity trends in education remain worrisome. The literacy rate for young women between the ages of 15 and 24 is only 18 per cent, compared to 51 per cent for boys.

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2008/Sahil
Two girls on their first day back at the Hawa School.

Primary school completion rates are also higher for boys, indicating the need to target other key issues faced by Afghan families.

For example, estimates suggest a large proportion of primary school-age girls have to work to support their families. Early marriages are quite common in rural areas, preventing many from receiving an education. And in some communities, the lack of female teachers presents a hindrance to girls’ education, as their families can be reluctant to enrol them.

Supporting teachers and students

In response, UNICEF and partners have been working with the Ministry of Education on the Teacher Education Project – an initiative providing technical education for teachers as well as training in child-participatory approaches in the classroom.

This year, UNICEF and it partners, in coordination with Afghanistan's education authorities, plan to encourage and support the enrollment of an additional 330,000 female students by building cost-effective schools. In addition, over 90,000 women will be encouraged to learn how to read and write for the first time through 3,500 new literacy centres around the country. 

Other key activities will include the training of 48,000 teachers, as well as developing textbooks and syllabi. The hope is that encouraging and promoting education from within the community will give the next generation of children the tools they need to shape their futures.


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March 2008:
UNICEF’s Ash Sweeting reports on students courageously returning to school, despite recent violence in Puli Khumri, Afghanistan.

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