Even before the battles that ousted the Taliban, only 38 per cent of boys received any primary education. Schooling for girls was virtually non-existent though a few courageous Afghan teachers risked punishment to keep women's education alive. Most of the schools have been damaged or destroyed. Many teachers have fled or been denied employment because of the restrictions placed on women. And many of the children have been displaced or otherwise traumatised by savage violence.
Yet, with all the problems of security and survival in that devastated country, there is a strong consensus that getting children back into school is one of the most important ways of restoring normality. It offers more than formal learning. It re-establishes a sense of order in young minds, gives refugees confidence to return to their communities and provides for adults the space to rebuild their shattered lives and livelihoods.
The TES's role is to provide information, not aid. So it is natural for us to raise readers' awareness of what needs to happen if education is to be rebuilt in Afghanistan. But the Afghan school year starts again in just three weeks time with most of its schools still shattered and looted, its teachers and education service in disarray. Urgent action is needed to get schools functioning again: books, materials, training, repairs to buildings. And the international children's charity UNICEF has a plan for providing just that in collaboration with the new Afghan administration. What it does not have is the money to pay for it.
We believe our readers will want to help their pupils to understand the plight of children in Afghanistan. And knowing how desperate that need is, we believe TES readers will also want to contribute to getting Afghan children back to school.
So we are launching today a TES Afghanistan emergency appeal in support of UNICEF. Our aim is to share with schools their ideas for addressing these issues in classrooms and assemblies and to provide an opportunity for TES readers to support Afghan colleagues. But in our Children Helping Children appeal inspired by our columnist Ted Wragg (see centre pages) we are also providing pupils with a means of showing their concern and experiencing what it means to be a global citizen.
As Karen Armstrong points out (page 7) the material and spiritual gulfs that divide the world touch us all. They make themselves felt, whether out of a clear blue sky last September 11 or through the violence erupting in our own multicultural cities.
The developed world must not turn its back on Afghanistan. Muslims and non-Muslims alike should seize this chance to express our common humanity. For all our sakes we urge you and your schools to support this appeal.