|REBUILDING THE EDUCATION SYSTEM|
After years of war and neglect, the country of Afghanistan is attempting to rebuild its critically damaged educational system.
The once robust and well-respected education system in Afghanistan has fallen into a state of neglect. War has destroyed more than 70 percent of the schools, and teachers and necessities such as textbooks and notebooks are in short supply.
The restrictions resulted in an education system in a state of total disarray when the Taliban government collapsed in late 2001. UNICEF, the United Nations organization charged with protecting the rights of children, reports that more than 85 percent of the population has never been to school and that many will never receive a proper education.
According to Afghanistan's minister of Education, the task of rebuilding is urgent and overwhelming.
"Demand for education is exploding -- at primary, secondary and tertiary levels. We cannot risk disappointing or leaving these children of the war generation out of the system. They're already vulnerable and traumatized," said Mohammad Younus Qanooni, the minister of Education of the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan.
"Yet from their ranks will come tomorrow's leaders," he added.
since the fall of the Taliban
The effort to educate a huge number of girls denied access to school has also made headway. On average, girls make up 30 percent of school-attending children, but in the stricter southern and eastern parts of the country the number of girls attending school is far lower and remains at rates considered unacceptable to the Ministry of Education.
Although the efforts since December 2001 have yielded some results, the educational efforts still face logistical and personnel challenges.
According to Afghan education authorities, more than 1.5 million school-age children will not be able to attend classes this year because there are not enough schools or teachers.
The schools that do exist often lack electricity, proper sanitation, or drinking water. Many utilize outdoor classrooms that are only available as long as the weather remains warm and close in the winter.
Safety issues also remain, with the land surrounding many schools still laced with landmines and unexploded ordnance.
Even when schools are rebuilt and staffed, standard supplies are rare. In the capital of Kabul, schools have few of the items considered commonplace in American schools.
"We don't have pencils, we don't have notebooks and we sit on the floor," Abdul Samad, a student in Kabul, told Radio Free Europe.
to rebuild the education system
The aim is to provide education for all school-age children and reclaim the "lost generation" of students who were denied education during the war and Taliban rule.
"Education is the bedrock of any society. In Afghanistan, the education of girls and women is one of the single most imperative investments the country can make," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy.
The government and groups are also working to make teaching a more appealing profession. Although generally a well-respected profession, teaching remains a low-paying one.
"A senior teacher gets about 1,800 to 2,000 Afghanis a month, which is far below all standards. For this money, you cannot even buy enough food," Wahid Hadafmand, a teacher in Kabul, told Radio Free Europe. "I am not exaggerating. Many teachers, especially in Kabul and other cities, don't have a place to live. They cannot afford to rent a property."
The government is attempting to solve this problem by giving teachers
special incentives such as reduced priced food and free medical services
in state-run institutions.