Monday, December 27, 2004

Helping Afghani Children Learn

A former Peace Corp worker and Iranian hostage, is working, in conjunction with Teachers College of Columbia University, with Afghanis to create new text books for the education-starved children of Afghanistan:

"One of our tenets is social justice," added Margaret Jo Shepherd, professor emeritus at the college, also working in Kabul. "The aim of Teachers College is to help poor people and immigrants, and educating Afghans so they can make a difference."….Children have returned to school in huge numbers since the repressive Taliban government ended three years ago, highlighting gaping deficiencies in the educational system…..The contribution of Teachers College is a small but important part of a multimillion-dollar international drive to revive the education system in Afghanistan. Financed by the United Nations Children's Fund, the Teachers College group is rewriting the curriculum and all primary school textbooks, including language textbooks in four local languages, while introducing a style of teaching new to Afghan teachers and students that encourages student participation.
However, there is still a lot to be done:

But the team has been slowed by a lack of money. It currently relies on Unicef for a $1 million budget, a minute proportion of the $150 million being spent by the United States on education programs here in the past year. An additional $60 million is expected from other donors over several years.

Many children are behind in their schooling after years of war and Taliban repression, and 40 percent of children - 63 percent of all girls - still do not go to school. Even more debilitating for the system, 80 percent of the 105,000 registered teachers have no formal training. About 40,000 more teachers are needed.

Some children interviewed in villages said they spent only two hours a day in class, and teachers are so poorly paid that they are often absent, working at a second job, students and teachers say.

Morale among teachers is low, and is not helped by the fact that some have been teaching for their third year in tents or in the open.

Despite millions of dollars put into building schools over the last two years, the international effort has only touched on the damage done in 25 years of war. Eighty percent of the country's 7,000 schools were damaged or destroyed, and 3,400 schools are still waiting to be rebuilt, according to the Ministry of Education.

The country needs 8,000 more schools on top of that, Unicef's senior program coordinator in Afghanistan, Reza Hossaini, estimated.

This is one area where everyone should be able to find common ground. There may be larger geopolitical issues involved, but in this case what really matters are the children of Afghanistan. There must be thousands of projects like this in Afghanistan and Iraq that could be rallying points for folks on the left and right.

To help the children of Afghanistan, click here.

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