- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan The school year begins today in Afghanistan, with many girls who were denied an education by the Taliban making their first appearance in classrooms.
The Taliban regime shuttered girls schools when it came to power six years ago and paid little attention to formal education for boys.
Today, with an influx of international aid, the reconstruction of the education system in Afghanistan has become a serious endeavor.
The United States and other foreign governments have provided Afghan children with new schools, uniforms, textbooks and knapsacks for the start of the school year.
A flagship UNICEF education program, dubbed "Back to School," hopes to draw 1.5 million primary school-age children into classrooms.
But low enrollment rates, decaying school buildings and a lack of teachers pose obstacles.
Many schools resemble charred bomb shelters no heat, no water and with plastic sheets in the windows. Few, if any, instructors have received formal training as teachers; many lack a high school education.
"By now, I should be graduating high school," 16-year-old Latifa Samadi told the Associated Press. "But I'm happy we're back."
She completed sixth grade before the Taliban took over in 1996. She will enter the eighth grade today and likely will not graduate from high school before age 20.
"I want to be a doctor," the teen-ager said, sitting in her classroom at Mir Ahmad Shahid School, which was destroyed during factional fighting in 1992 and rebuilt in the past two months.
Despite a countrywide assessment, the Ministry of Education is still not sure precisely how many students, teachers, or even structurally sound schools exist.
Afghan Minister of Education Abdul Rassoul Amin, who was educated in Australia, recently walked into the UNICEF office and said, "This Back to School program is my baby it cannot fail."
"Even though UNICEF has been in Afghanistan for 50 years, this is the first time that we have had the funds to really do something good," said Jeanine Wright, the UNICEF Back to School program coordinator.
The initiative is funded by UNICEF and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Borje Almquist, spokesman for the Swedish Afghanistan Committee that runs several hundred rural schools, said the system is stretched thin by a lack of teachers.
"The local people want the schools and education, but in order to have schools you first need to have teachers and you can't just pull literate people out of thin air," Mr. Almquist said.
The curriculum for first through third grades includes instruction in Dari and Pashtu, the dominant languages of Afghanistan, as well as arithmetic.
After three years, the focus shifts to reading, writing and arithmetic and other subjects such as calligraphy, history, art and science.
Interim leader Hamid Karzai said recently: "The fall of the Taliban meant a return of dignity to the people of Afghanistan.
"The people feel like this is a whole new era, and this new era means education education to the point of saturation for man, woman and child and I will stake my reputation on it."

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