- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

ACCRA, Ghana — First lady Laura Bush yesterday hailed six American colleges for agreeing to produce and distribute 15 million textbooks for primary-school students in poverty-stricken Africa.

“Sadly, too many children around the world do not have access to education or schooling,” Mrs. Bush told 500 trainees at the Accra Teacher Training College. “The problem is particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide funding for the program, which will send textbooks to Ghana, Senegal, Zambia, Tanzania, South Africa and Ethiopia. The books will be printed in English or French, depending on each country’s official language, according to a spokeswoman with USAID.

“These textbooks will be created in Africa so they will represent the experiences of African students,” Mrs. Bush said.

While the first lady was joined onstage by college presidents in this impoverished African nation, her textbook announcement was being criticized in Washington.

“The initiative she has launched is rather narrow in scope,” said David Bryden, communications director for Global AIDS Alliance. “We believe the U.S. should be thinking much bigger when it comes to supporting effective basic-education programs. We need to go beyond textbooks.”

But the first lady said textbooks are just one aspect of President Bush’s $600 million African Education Initiative, which also pays for scholarships, school uniforms and teacher training. She said the program, started in 2001, is already paying dividends.

“In addition to the textbook program announced today, the African Education Initiative has already facilitated the shipment of over 2 million books to African schools and libraries,” she said.

Still, in sub-Saharan Africa, at least a third of the children are not enrolled in primary school. Of those who do enroll in first grade, fewer than half actually graduate from primary school.

Mrs. Bush said children who are taught reading, math and science end up with fewer sexually transmitted diseases, which are rampant in Africa.

“Education is our greatest ally in the effort to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS,” she said. “Educated girls and boys are more likely to know what HIV is and how to avoid infection.”

The colleges and universities participating in the program are Chicago State University, Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina, Tougaloo College in Mississippi, South Carolina State University, the University of Texas at San Antonio and Alabama A&M; University.

Mr. Bryden acknowledged that Mrs. Bush “is correct that education is one of our most effective weapons in the fight against AIDS.” But he called on Mr. Bush, who has pledged $5 billion to fight AIDS, to do even more.

“We see a key opportunity over the next two weeks, as President Bush is preparing his State of the Union address,” he said. “We, along with a wide range of other groups, have appealed to him to announce a new presidential initiative on expanding access to basic education.”

After delivering her speech, Mrs. Bush visited the AIDS ward of a clinic in Accra. She and her daughter Barbara met with 16 AIDS patients to discuss ways to fight the disease and cope with the stigmatization of victims.

The first lady later flew to Nigeria, where she will visit a school and hospital today.

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