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UNICEF gears up to boost Afghan education as new school year begins

19 March 2007 – With more than 6 million Afghan children returning to school this week in grades 1 to 12, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has set itself a target of enrolling 400,000 more girls in basic education, providing learning materials to 5.4 million youngsters up to grade 9, and supplying teaching materials for over 100,000 teachers.

“It’s very exciting to see the increasing enrolments, it shows the commitment of parents wanting their children to be educated and ensuring that Afghanistan has an educated society in the future,” UNICEF Chief of Education for the country David McLoughlin told a news conference today in Kabul, the capital.

“It is incredible to see during the past five years that the people of Afghanistan have reaffirmed their commitment to their children’s and Afghanistan’s future by sending their children to school in unprecedented numbers that have never been seen before,” he added. “To have 6,080,260 children in school in a few days time is something that is very historic for this country.”

But major challenges still confront the country and UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Education in trying to overcome them. These include providing suitable teaching and learning accommodation throughout the country, developing effective teacher-training, and providing female teachers, of which there is a critical shortage affecting the retention rate of students, particularly girls.

Low rural literacy levels, with 90 per cent of women and 65 per cent of men still illiterate, provide another challenge as do improving the curriculum and school management, and developing school management committees to give ownership of education back to local communities.

UNICEF’s $25.4-million work plan within the Ministry of Education’s strategic plan also includes the construction of 246 cost-effective community schools. The plan is also supporting 140,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49 under the functional literacy programme through the establishment of 4,000 literacy centres throughout Afghanistan.

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