Rebuilding Afghanistan's education systemParis - UNESCO is seeking some US$27 million dollars to help Afghanistan rebuild a sustainable education system and to meet the country's most urgent education needs, in particular the rehabilitation of Kabul University to jump-start higher education, training for education managers and teachers, and the development of non-formal and distance education to tackle one of the world's highest rates of illiteracy.
"A massive effort has already been made over the past few months by our UN partners, especially UNICEF and the NGO community, to deal with the humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan. They have re-opened schools and enabled children to get back into class," said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura. "This first phase must now be followed up by longer-term activities to rebuild the education system, including the formulation of sound policies and the strengthening of Afghanistan's professional capacities. This is clearly within UNESCO's mandate and the goal towards which our Organization is working."
To this end, UNESCO and the Afghan authorities have drawn a series of projects to present to donors. They focus on quick action to build up the capacity of the education authorities to manage the basic education services that the population requires following the success of the back-to-school campaign. To this end the projects will help the ministries of education and higher education to develop a national education strategy, which will consolidate the peace process underway. The projects will provide training for educational planners, administrators and managers, and the material they require to execute their tasks efficiently. They will initiate teacher training programmes, assist in curricula development and textbook revision to provide modern quality education and teaching materials, and non-formal and distance education programmes for out of school youth and illiterate adults (an estimated 70 percent of the adult population is illiterate, including the vast majority of women) and for children with special needs, such as orphans and the handicapped. An Institute of Technical and Vocational Training is proposed which will design training programmes to upgrade young people's professional skills.
Particular attention is being given to higher education and the rehabilitation of Kabul University. Over the past two decades, Afghanistan lost an estimated 200,000 teachers and academics and its 17 universities and institutes were left devastated by conflict. Reconstructing the country, however, requires educated and qualified Afghans. Earlier this year, UNESCO helped organize university entrance exams for some 20,000 candidates, of whom 16,400 were admitted.
Training seminars for teacher trainers were conducted to expose key trainers to new teaching methods. Similarly for the first time Afghans responsible for education administration were brought together from the provinces to discuss the preparation of the back-to-school campaign.
The Organization has set up a computer training centre at the journalism faculty of Kabul University, along with an internet cafe. It has also launched English language courses, for which demand is growing exponentially (these courses are also being followed by Afghanistan's air traffic controllers), and, has collected educational publications for the university library through an international book appeal.
A number of donors have already expressed their willingness to help. Italy has pledged US$800,000 for Afghanistan and a large part of that money will be spent on education while Germany has provided US$494,631 (€500,000) for education projects in the country. Japan provided US$100,000 to finance the computer centre at Kabul University, and the Islamic Development Bank has indicated that it is also keen to participate.
However, a great deal more is needed and it is hoped that the programme prepared by UNESCO with the Afghan authorities, which will cover the period up to December 2004, will give donors the confidence to loosen their purse strings.