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As Spring Blooms, Record Number of Afghan Children Begin First Day of School

More than six million children in Afghanistan are heading back to school this week. According to UNICEF Afghanistan Chief of Education David McLoughlin, 6,080,260 children will begin school on the traditional date of the first day of Spring. 

40% of Afghan children now attending school are girls, up from 3% in 2001. In 2002 alone, three million Afghan children returned to school after years of war. Over 3,200 schools have been built or refurbished, over 50 million textbooks have been published and over 50,000 teachers have been trained. 

UNICEF is helping to distribute essential school supplies and teaching materials around the country to meet their needs. UNICEF has also partnered with the Ministry of Education to provide teaching material to over 100,000 teachers and to train teachers in new methodologies. Additional plans for 2007 include enrolling an additional 400,000 girls in basic education, providing learning materials to 5.4 million children in grades one to nine, and building new community schools. By the end of 2010, the Government of Afghanistan plans for net enrollment in primary school for girls and boys to reach 60% and 70% respectively. At that time, a new curriculum that promotes religious and ethnic tolerance will be operational, female teachers will be increased by 50%, and a national testing system for students will be in place

However, grave challenges remain in the drive to secure education for Afghanistan’s children. During the past 18 months, the Taliban has burned more than 180 schools and have used threats and violence to prevent 100,000 children from attending school. But in many of these less secure districts, Afghans are standing up to the forces of extremism and intolerance, who are failing in their attempts to intimidate the population by burning schools and threatening teachers. The Christian Science Monitor has reported that village elders have taken responsibility for the protection of schools, recruiting village volunteers to stand watch nightly over schools that are at risk. Since community-watch programs were initiated, the rate of attacks has fallen significantly.

This community-sponsored school-watch program is a testament to Afghanistan’s dedication to education. "The enthusiasm we see is incredible. Education has a special importance in Afghanistan, and that is what our enemies know," said Afghanistan's Deputy Minister of Education Mohammad Patman. On young girl in Medrawer named Atefa echoed that sentiment, expressing how important it was that she continues to go to school. "I'm not scared, because I want to serve my country in the future," she says. "If kids don't know anything, how will they be able to build this country?"




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