United Nations calls for action on Afghan literacy
KABUL - The United Nations has called for serious action to improve literacy rates in Afghanistan, one of the most illiterate countries in the world. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today launched the Global Action Week for Education at a press conference in the Afghan capital.
“UNESCO and UNICEF are calling on all stakeholders in Afghanistan to take serious action towards overcoming challenges to improve literacy in the country,” said Shigeru Aoyagi, UNESCO’s country representative.
“Particular attention must be given to those vulnerable to exclusion and marginalisation – including women, people with disabilities, members of minority groups and those living in extreme poverty,” added Aoyagi.
Global Action Week is an international campaign advocating free and quality education for all. Organised annually, this year’s theme focuses on literacy for both young people and adults.
Worldwide, 774 million children and adults are unable to read and write. In Afghanistan one out of every two men and four out of five women aged 15 or above cannot read or write. Approximately 34 percent of the population is literate.
The majority of Afghans live in rural areas of the country. In those areas it is estimated that 90 percent of women and 63 percent of men are illiterate.
“Both UNESCO and UNICEF are currently working in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education to implement non-formal literacy programmes,” said Aoyagi.
“UNESCO’s Enhancement of Literacy programme will operate in 18 provinces, providing 600,000 learners with literacy, post-literacy and skills training by 2013. 60 percent of the students will be women,” added Aoyagi.
Half of the Afghan population is below 18 years old and Afghanistan has one of the highest proportions of school-age children in the world – approximately one in five Afghans is a primary school-age child.
There are 1.7 million girls studying in primary schools across Afghanistan of which only 30 percent reach Grade 5, compared to 56 percent for boys.
“UNICEF’s literacy initiative – Women’s Literacy and Empowerment Project operates in all 34 provinces and will contribute to a 20 percent increase in the literacy rate for women by 2013,” said Gopal Sharma, UNICEF deputy country representative.
“UNESCO and UNICEF are urging all government ministries, NGOs, civil society groups and local communities to take the opportunity to participate in Education for All Global Action Week and to renew their commitment to improving literacy and education for all in Afghanistan, “added Sharma.
Insecurity is one of the main challenges for the education sector in Afghanistan. Almost half of school-age children are unable to attend school due to worries over their safety in parts of the country.
There were 292 attacks on schools in 2008 in which 92 people were killed and 169 injured. So far in 2009, there have been 29 attacks on schools in which 13 people were killed and 14 injured.
“Around 700 schools were closed last year and we are supporting the Government in re-opening of these schools,” said Sharma.
Kandahar provincial government has re-opened 19 schools in different districts over the last month and is planning to establish seven new schools in the Shorabak district of Kandahar.
UNICEF is planning to build 72 new schools in 2009 while the construction of 108 schools is currently underway across the country.
Today is the start of Global Action Week for Education, in which countries all over the world reaffirm their commitment to achieving the “Education for All” goals set by over 160 countries at the World Education Conference in Dakar, Senegal in 2000.
By Homayon Khoram, UNAMA