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Over 6M Afghan Children To Start New School Year

Over 6 million Afghan children to start new school year with UN support

25 February 2008 - As more than 6 million children in Afghanistan prepare to start a new school year in a few weeks, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) is working to ensure that both boys and girls in the strife-torn nation have access to quality education in a safe environment.

To prepare for the new school year which begins on 22 March, UNICEF is providing learning materials for students and teacher kits. It is also planning to support the Ministry of Education in constructing nearly 300 schools this year, training 48,000 teachers and developing textbooks and syllabi.

While the number of children expected in school this year is close to 6.2 million, up from last year's 5.7 million last year, a number of challenges remain, including gender disparity among students, a shortage of qualified teachers and attacks on schools.

UNICEF estimates that 32 per cent of boys complete primary school while only 13 per cent of girls do so. To address this situation, the agency is supporting the Afghanistan Girls' Education Initiative launched last year and supporting the Government in its goal to enrol an additional 330,000 girls in school this year.

"This is a big challenge for all of us, the Afghan nation and the Afghan children, to bring about parity, or equality, for children and ensure that all children, whether they are girls or boys, continue to go to school, and complete their schooling, so that they can contribute not only to their own development, but also contribute to the building of the country," UNICEF's Deputy Representative in Afghanistan, Sikander Khan, said at a press briefing in Kabul today.

He added that UNICEF will back the Ministry of Education in supporting community-based schools, "so that girls have the opportunity, in a safe and culturally appropriate environment, to go to school, so that they can also be part of learning process and contribute to the development of this country."

The agency is also supporting the Education Ministry in addressing the shortage of teachers in the country and improving the quality of education.

Another major concern is that attacks on schools, and intimidation in some communities aimed at stopping families from sending their children to school, could undo some of the recent achievements.

UNICEF is working with local leaders, village elders and religious leaders to identify ways to protect schools and continue education for the millions of children who are returning to school, or will start school for the first time this year.

ENDS

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