AFGHANISTAN: Record numbers enrol in new school year


Photo: IRIN
Thousands of girls go to school in Kabul

KABUL, 21 March 2007 (IRIN) – Schools in Afghanistan will open their doors to more than six million pupils at the start of the new academic year on 24 March – almost double the number of the past five years.

“This is a historical moment in Afghanistan,” said David McLoughlin, a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) official in Kabul. “Afghans have reaffirmed their commitment towards an educated society.”

In 2002, more than three million students enrolled in grades one to 12, according to Keiko Miwa, an education specialist with the World Bank.

Girls comprise about two million of all students who will join school from Saturday. In an effort to ensure equal access to education, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education plans to enrol 400,000 more female students in 2007.

During the Taliban rule between 1996 and 2001, girls were deprived of any formal education. Enrolment rates vary greatly between urban and rural areas, however. In the capital, Kabul, and western city of Herat, enrolment rates for girls can reach 50 percent, while in insurgency-hit Uruzgan and Zabul provinces in the south, more than 90 percent of girls cannot go to school.

More than three decades of conflict and conservative customs have restricted female education, with the result that about 80 percent of Afghan women are now illiterate, according to UN agencies.

The Afghan government has placed education at the top of its development agenda. It has allocated 4.3 percent of its national budget to education and has requested donors for an extra US$300 million development fund.

The country needs 7,800 additional schools over the next five years, the international agency Oxfam said in a report in late 2006.

UNICEF is supporting endeavours to fight widespread illiteracy among Afghans. “UNICEF will provide assistance to the Ministry of Education in rural girls’ education, teachers’ training, curriculum development, capacity building and women’s literacy,” McLoughlin said.

The UN agency spent $6 million on stationary kits, which will be distributed to students in grades one to six on their first day at school in 2007. About 100,000 teachers in Afghanistan’s 34 provinces will receive similar assistance.

Other major donors, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and European Union (EU), have printed millions of textbooks in addition to supporting an extensive teacher training programme.

Insurgency shuts schools in south

In 2006, hundreds of schools were shut in the south and southeast of Afghanistan where the Taliban resurgence threatened students and teachers.

At least 120 public schools were torched and 10 teachers killed in 2006, while 273 schools were set on fire in 2005.

In some provinces insurgents have circulated ‘night-letters’, threatening parents who send their children to school.

“We do not have soldiers to guard all schools and protect every student,” said Zahur Afghan, a spokesman for the education ministry, “but we have tried to attract people’s support for their children’s education.”

Hundreds of schools will remain closed in volatile provinces in the south and southeast, denying thousands of children the right to education, say officials and aid workers.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Education, (IRIN) Gender Issues, (IRIN) Governance

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