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UNICEF joins Afghan Govt fighting adult illiteracy

UNICEF joins Afghan Government in fighting adult illiteracy

Responding to the plight of Afghanistan’s 8 million illiterate adults, more than 200 literacy teacher trainees, the vast majority women, have embarked upon tutor training programmes in three western provinces as part of a joint Government-United Nations effort to improve reading skills among the older generation.

With average adult literacy in the war-torn country estimated at just 43 per cent, and female literacy at only 14 per cent, the new initiative is critical to improving not only literacy levels, but also supporting long-term progress in the economic and social sectors, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.

The first training session in the west was launched in Heart province last Wednesday with 138 new tutors starting a week-long programme to enhance their teaching skills. The programme got underway on Thursday in Farah province, supporting 55 literacy teachers, while on Saturday a third course began in Badghis province for a further 45 new tutors.

The training programmes, supported by UNICEF, will expand to Ghor province later this month, with the aim of reaching a total of 300 literacy teachers in the western provinces. The literacy courses themselves will start in the west in June, benefiting 7,500 people, mostly women.

Nationally, the literacy programme aims to reach 160,000 adults this year, the majority women. To date in 2006, 26,500 people have already enrolled in literacy courses around the country through the joint programme. So far, 180 of the literacy teacher trainees are themselves women.

The Joint Programme on Adult Functional Literacy is a partnership between the Government and UN agencies including UNICEF, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also supports literacy programmes in one province.

The Programme has set itself a goal of increasing adult literacy levels by 50 per cent over the next three years, in line with national development targets.

High levels of illiteracy are known to contribute to Afghans’ diminished livelihoods, and constrained economic and social development, while illiteracy amongst women is a major factor in the alarming rates of maternal mortality.

UNICEF believes that by increasing particularly women’s literacy, there are improved prospects for reduced maternal deaths, improved child care, and more opportunities for women to enter essential professions such as teaching, medicine and social work, where women are severely under-represented at present.

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