DAWN, March 6, 2010

No school for almost half of Afghan children

Five million school-age children do not go to school

KABUL: Almost half of school-age children in Afghanistan do not have access to education, President Hamid Karzai said Saturday as he inaugurated the new school year.

Conditions of schools in Afghanistan is very bad
Eight years since the repressive Taliban regime was overthrown, 42 per cent children still do not attend or have access to schools. (Photo: RFE/RL)

Despite a seven-fold increase in the number of children going to school in the eight years since the repressive Taliban regime was overthrown, 42 per cent still do not attend or have access to schools, Karzai said.

“Five million school-age children in our country do not go to school, some because of war or because their schools have been closed by the Taliban or others, some because they do not have the ability to go to schools,” he said.

In early 2002, fewer than one million children - only boys - attended 3,400 schools across the country, taught by 20,000 male teachers, said education minister Mohammad Farooq Wardak.

By contrast, seven million students - 37 per cent of them girls - attend 12,500 schools, where 30 per cent of the teachers, or 175,000, are women.

“We are still facing a series of serious challenges,” Wardak told a ceremony at a secondary school adjacent to the Presidential Palace.

“Forty-two per cent of school-age children do not have access to schools and another 11 million of our compatriots are illiterate,” he said.

Afghanistan has been suffering some sort of armed conflict for the past 30 years, starting with the Soviet invasion of 1979, through civil war, and, from 1996-2001, rule by the Islamist Taliban who banned girls from education.

This has left a huge knowledge gap that the international community has been trying to fill, with billions of dollars of aid pouring in since the Taliban were pushed out in a US-led invasion.

But a Taliban insurgency has effectively paralysed the reconstruction drive and in some areas under the insurgents' control, schools have been closed down completely and schoolgirls had acid thrown in their face.

Wardak said that in 200 out of 412 districts across the country there were no girls studying at all, mainly for fear of Taliban attack or because in many rural areas girls have traditionally not been educated.

He said 245 districts did not have a professional female teacher, and only 27 per cent of all teachers had minimum professional qualifications.

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