6 February 2003

Biggest-ever education drive

On Monday, Feb 10, 250,000 Angolan children will return to school in the biggest education campaign in the country's history, backed by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Angolan government. The size and scope of 'Back to School' "underlines the fact that education is being unswervingly endorsed as the engine to drive Angola's long-term recovery" after three decades of civil war, UNICEF said in a statement. In partnership with the Ministry of Education and Culture, a UNICEF campaign is this month helping to train 4,000 new teachers, restore 1,300 classrooms, and prepare thousands of education kits to be supplied to children and teachers in the central Angolan provinces of Bie and Malanje - the launch sites of the programme.

In Bie and Malanje - among the worst hit by the civil war - every primary school age child will have the opportunity to go back to the classroom. Funds from the European Union will expand the project to 30 other municipalities across the country, where returning refugees will be a priority. Currently 44 percent of Angola's children are out of school. The country faces a critical lack of basic infrastructure, trained teachers and of educational material, with one million children excluded from primary education. This has been largely due to a lack of schools, the cost of informal fees and materials, as well as children's workload and lack of birth certificates.

"Back to School seeks to address all these factors. Communities are being supported to build new schools from local materials; old schools were restored; teachers trained; UNICEF education kits supplied to teachers and children; assistance provided for the establishment of community/parent school management groups; and a national birth registration campaign has seen 1.5 million children issued with birth certificates," UNICEF said. The programme will also pay special attention to girls. Girls continue to trail boys in literacy rates, despite ample proof that educated girls are more likely to ensure the education and health of their own children. By promoting a policy of "not one child out of school" and encouraging religious and traditional leaders to be committed to the enrolment of girls, the project aims to prevent gender bias. Full implementation of the programme will cost US $6 million. The European Union has contributed US $950,000, while UNICEF has provided US $1.5 million, leaving a critical shortfall of US $3.55 million.

"The Angolan public's reaction to Back to School has been phenomenal," said Ferrari. "Communities are rallying, parents are participating, and children are heading back to the classrooms. However, the campaign can only be sustained if donors continue to support this decisive moment in Angola's history." (IRIN)

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