UN envoy urges more funds to help Afghanistans schoolchildren

“At a time when the number of children returning to school is surging, more resources are needed to keep up the momentum,” Jean Arnault told a ceremony at the Amani school. “A huge funding gap of some $173 million exists for this year alone.”The money is needed to build new schools, improve teaching materials, develop fresh curricula and hire more teachers.Compared to last year, the number of girls attending school – a practice that was banned until the Taliban were toppled from power – has increased by 30 per cent. Mr. Arnault said the emphasis on women’s education in the new Afghan Constitution should give further impetus to this positive trend. Referring to radical elements opposed to girls’ education, Mr. Arnault said, “it is distressing to hear periodically about the actions of a few who continue to burn schools in different parts of the country.”“Let this be an opportunity once again to condemn these acts,” he said, stressing that those responsible “will not be able to sway parents or slow the country down.” Also today, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced a joint effort with the Afghan Ministry of Education to bring learning closer to home for 500,000 female students across the country by developing 10,000 community-based schools in areas lacking a formal school facility. The schools will be based in existing local structures, such as a public building, the mosque or even private homes, according to UNICEF, which will also provide tent classrooms to villages where no alternative is available for housing classes. Last year more than 4 million children were enrolled in formal education in Afghanistan, including 1.2 million girls. In the 2004 academic year, UNICEF estimates that up to 5.5 million children will return to school as demand for learning continues to grow. The community-based school programme is one element of a broad campaign to bring an additional 1 million girls into school by 2005.

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