By Taleen Vartan
NEW YORK, 10 August 2011 – Continuing into its fifth year, the Back on Track Programme on Education in Emergencies and Post-Crisis Transition (EEPCT) – a partnership between the Government of the Netherlands, the European Commission and UNICEF – supports countries in emergency and post-crisis transition contexts to establish sustainable progress towards quality basic education for all.
The second of the four goals of the Back on Track programme is to increase the resilience of education service delivery in chronic crises, arrested development and deteriorating contexts. It seeks to reverse the prevailing tendency to suspend support for education and other social services in conflict- or crisis-affected countries, while using education to help improve socio-political and economic situations.
Quality education is a vital step for development in Afghanistan. Despite significant progress in school enrolment in the recent years, 4.5 million children – of which most are girls – remain out of school, according to the Ministry of Education. Girls have limited access to education due to restricted movement, cultural barriers, shortage of female teachers and poor school facilities. Furthermore, schools are often located far from children’s homes and the walk to school can be unsafe. To address Goal 2 of the programme, UNICEF, together with the Afghan Ministry of Education, is working with communities to establish community-based schools in conflict-affected areas, especially in Southern, Eastern and Central Regions.
Given the volatility of security in Afghanistan, the establishment of community-based schools provides flexibility as well as increased resilience and access to education in conflict-prone and hard-to-reach areas. The initiative is based on community participation in identifying out-of-school children and training educated men and women among the local community as teachers, and in designating community buildings such as mosques and public halls as learning spaces. This approach enables the most disadvantaged children, especially girls, to enrol in school at the right age.
In 2009, UNICEF and partners established and operated 268 community-based schools in conflict-prone areas in Central Region, providing more secure access to education for nearly 10,000 first-grade students, who would not have enrolled in school otherwise and would have been denied their fundamental right to an education. In addition, UNICEF and partners provided essential education materials for students and teachers of community-based schools; without these resources, many children – especially girls and those from poor families – would not have been able to attend school.
Building the capacity of teachers
The lack of qualified teachers in conflict-affected and rural areas of Afghanistan remains one of the biggest challenges of the education sector. To build teachers’ capacity, UNICEF and partners have provided teacher training before community-based schools were opened, while teachers in existing schools were offered retraining to further enhance their professional skills. In 2008, nearly 1,400 community-based teachers in Central Region received comprehensive training and learned how to create an appropriate child-friendly environment in the classroom.
In 2011, to continue improving education prospects for the war-torn children of Afghanistan, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education are focusing on increasing student enrolment and retention, raising female literacy rates, boosting teacher capacity and ensuring that quality basic education is available for all girls and boys in the country.
Back on Track Programme
Afghanistan is one of the 40 countries that has benefitted significantly from the Back on Track programme since its inception. EEPCT funds have made a substantive impact on bolstering the resilience of education provision during the protracted emergency and therefore paving the way for a better future for Afghani children.
As of 2010, results achieved from the programme have increased the education opportunities for 500,000 children in targeted countries affected by emergencies, who are among the most vulnerable, and strengthened the capacity of education systems to withstand renewed conflict or crisis.