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Don't write off adult learning

Just 4 per cent of Afghan women are literate. The TESUNICEF appeal plans to do something about this. Sue Learner reports

LEADING figures in adult learning are urging lecturers and students in further education to back the TES's Children Helping Children campaign for Afghanistan.

The main thrust of the TES-UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) appeal is to help get children back to school by raising money to train teachers, repair buildings, and provide materials.

But UNICEF also desperately needs funds to back a joint programme with the Afghan Interim Authority to enable adolescent girls and young women to catch up on the education they were denied under the Taliban and earlier administrations.

Ricardo Diaz, project manager at the National Centre for Adult Literacy, and Alan Tuckett, director of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, have strongly backed UNICEF's appeal for funds to educate adults and children, in a country where it is thought that only 4 per cent of women and 40 per cent of men are literate - which leaves most Afghans unable to read even simple instructions for using medicines.

Mr Diaz said: "It's right to draw attention not just to the the plight of Afghan children, but also to the need to strengthen the educational support that these same kids get at night when they go home from their classes. To help the children we must also help the parents."

At the moment UNICEF is able to support only a limited number of small-scale basic literacy programmes in which women are also trained in skills such as tailoring and handicrafts.

If colleges in Britain get behind the campaign, UNICEF plans to work with the Afghan ministry of education to set up a programme of accelerated primary education for girls in their late teens and women in their early 20s. "The difficulties are for young married women who have children or are under the control of a mother-in-law," UNICEF spokeswoman Kathryn Irwin said. "Sadly, for them it may be too late. However, the programme would be inclusive to all - adolescent girls, young women and married women."

Under the Taliban, which ruled from 1996, girls were banned from school and education for boys prioritised Islamic studies over language and science. Women were also banned from teaching and at Kabul University, male enrolment dropped and women students were ousted.

David Archer, head of international education for ActionAid, which co-ordinates adult literacy programmes in 60 countries, said: "These programmes are particularly important for women as they will shift the balance of power and improve the status of women. This is the first opportunity for women to get out of their role in the home and enter into public discourse."

But he warned it will not be easy, as in many areas of Afghanistan it is still thought that women do not have the right to an education.

Alan Tuckett said: "What is clear is that we won't solve any problems unless we have a combination of adult and child literacy."

A report published by the International Literacy Institute in 1998 called Investing in Adult Literacy: Lessons and Implications said "literacy increases the value placed on education in the household".

The report looked at why the World Bank decided to invest in adult literacy programmes. Research revealed that "adults, especially mothers, who are involved in literacy programmes, are more likely to send and keep their children in school".

It noted that adult literacy and primary schooling have "complementary rather than competing claims on public expenditure".

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