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UNICEF to Launch Education Campaign in Angola - 2003-02-09

On Monday, nearly a quarter-million children in Angola will go back to school.

The campaign will begin in the central Angolan provinces of Bie and Malanje. UNICEF says every primary school age child will have the opportunity to go to school.

UNICEF spokesman Marc Vergara says this will be the first time many of the children will be going to school. For others, he says, it will be a return to the schools they had to leave because of Angola's civil war.

"One of the results of this conflict is that we now have more than one million children not going to school. That is about 44 percent of all children in Angola who are not going to school," he said. "And it is interesting to note that the capital of Bie province, Kuito, was a city that was completely ruined, devastated by war, several times attacked, bombed, with no infrastructure to speak of. And, for us, it is a great symbol to see this city welcoming children back into school, to get some sort of normalcy back to a normal life."

In preparation for this back-to-school campaign, UNICEF, the government and private agencies have restored 13,000 classrooms and prepared thousands of education kits for children and teachers.

Mr. Vergara says one of the biggest problems facing the country is the lack of trained teachers. He says about 4,000 people are being trained as primary school teachers. But he notes that their qualifications leave much to be desired.

"We are talking about people, sometimes 15, 16, who have basic education sometimes, being trained now to teach other children. That is as basic as it is," Mr. Vergara said. "We describe this as a lack of trained personnel. So we have had to rush through thousands of people with basic training in the hope that it will incite others to go into the education system in Angola. Of course, it will take years and years for Angola to fully recover from 27 years of war."

UNICEF spokesman Vergara says the Back to School program is paying special attention to girls, who continue to trail boys in literacy rates. He says there is ample proof that educated girls are more likely to ensure the education and health of their own children.

Mr. Vergara says Angola hopes to have all the country's children back in school by the end of the year. However, lack of money may prevent this from happening. He says the program will cost $6 million. So far, he says, UNICEF has received less than half that amount.