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19 September, 2008


Not all children in Georgia have been able to return to class even though the new school year began earlier this week, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is working to ensure access to education in the aftermath of last month’s conflict.

The Caucasus country is still recovering from the fighting involving Georgian, South Ossetian and Russian forces that began on 8 August and uprooted some 192,000 people.

Earlier this month, UNICEF, in partnership with the Government and other partners, launched a back-to-school campaign, ahead of the start of the new school year on 15 September.

But the agency’s Robert Cohen told a news conference in Geneva today that only 143 out of the 220 schools in Tbilisi started classes, adding that many of the schools in the capital had not opened for classes because displaced persons were still living in them, or because repairs were being made.

The students from those schools were being integrated into other schools, usually through a second shift system, he said. Most of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) who were not being sheltered in schools had been moved into kindergartens, and now all kindergartens in Tbilisi were occupied.

The authorities said that all internally displaced schoolchildren – around 10,000 – would be in school by 1 October.

Meanwhile, UNICEF has distributed to the authorities in Gori some 265 school-in-a-box kits and 235 recreation kits for 26,000 conflict-affected children in and around that Georgian town.

Mr. Cohen added that a UNICEF team visiting villages in the buffer zone north of Gori yesterday had reported that schooling had not begun because the situation was not yet safe.

The agency was working to get children back to school through the collection and distribution of textbooks, provision of school-in-a-box and recreation kits, improving hygiene in the schools and providing psychosocial support through teacher training. Also, mine-risk education had begun in communities in the Gori-Tskhinvali corridor.

In a related development, the UN inter-agency humanitarian assessment mission that is visiting areas affected by the recent conflict has wrapped up two days of discussions in South Ossetia and has left for North Ossetia (Russia).

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12 June, 2008


The United Nations is urging improved access to education as the right response to address the plight of the estimated 165 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 worldwide who are involved in child labour.

“Despite global progress in many areas, it is unacceptable that so many children must still work for their survival and that of their families,” Juan Somavia, Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization (ILO), said today on the occasion of the World Day Against Child Labour.

The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) says that of some 218 million child labourers around the world, millions are either denied educational opportunities that would give them a better future or must balance work with education.

“For too many children, particularly children of poor families across the world, the right to education remains an abstract concept, far from the reality of daily life,” Mr. Somavia stated.

He noted that more than 70 million primary school-aged children are not enrolled in school. Many of these and other out-of-school children start working at an early age, often well below the minimum age of employment. And when a family has to make a choice between sending either a boy or girl to school, it is often the girl who loses out.

“Our challenge is to offer hope to the child labourers of the world by making their right a reality, ensuring that they have quality education and training which can lead them towards a future of decent work,” he said.

“This is essential to break the cycle of child labour and poverty. And it is a sound investment for individuals and society.”

To tackle child labour, ILO is urging governments to provide education for all children at least to the minimum age of employment, as well as education policies that reach out to child labourers and other excluded groups.

In addition, the agency is calling for properly resourced quality education and skills training, and education for all children and decent work for adults.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also sees education as the best weapon in the global fight against child labour and says recent data has provided hope. The number of children out of school has dropped from 115 million in 2002 to 93 million in 2006.

The agency says part of this success has come from new initiatives to bring down the cost of schooling, making it more accessible to more children, including the School Fee Abolition Initiative (SFAI) launched by UNICEF and the World Bank in 2005 to support countries in implementing school fee abolition policies.

The annual World Day is being marked in some 60 countries with events ranging from awareness-raising campaigns and artistic performances to competitions and photo exhibitions on child labour.

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10 March, 2008


A Japanese grant of $8.7 million to the United Nations refugee agency will make it possible for hundreds of teachers to be formally trained in southern Sudan in the next three years, the partners announced today.

The funding will support the construction of Teacher Training Institutes (TTIs) in Juba and Aweil, two key cities of southern Sudan, where a decades-long civil-war decimated the education system, Japan and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a joint press release.

Along with these TTIs, the project will also cover the building of five satellite primary schools where teachers in training will conduct classes as part of their hands-on experience.

“The programmes developed by the UN and Partners for the education sector are aligned to achieve the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology’s overall goal of ensuring equitable access to quality education services for sustainable development,” UNHCR Representative Chrysantus Ache said at a signing ceremony held on Friday in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan.

In addition to UNHCR, the project also involves the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the education sector lead, as well as the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which are expected to provide nutritional assistance and help with school gardens, respectively.

The South Sudan Ministry of Education, Science and Technology aims to have 10,000 fully qualified teachers by 2011.

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October, 2007


Nearly six million Iraqi children are going back to the classroom this week in what the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) calls a “remarkable achievement” while cautioning that more needs to be done to support the effort.

The damaging toll of displacement and the pervasive insecurity in Iraq have cost many of the country’s schoolchildren their education: according to figures released by Iraq’s Ministry of Education, only 40 per cent of final year students in Iraq (excluding the Kurdistan Region) passed their high school exams during the first examination session of 2007, compared to last year’s pass rate of 60 per cent, UNICEF said.

The same figures showed that just 28 per cent of Iraq’s graduation-age population took their exams at all – 152,000 out of approximately 642,000 children aged 17 – although a supplementary exam session currently under way should increase the rate.

UNICEF Representative for Iraq Roger Wright stressed that, despite the low numbers, each and every completed test must be viewed as a success for Iraqi children – many of whom braved severe risks to reach exam centres.

“Iraq’s schools are in urgent need of support, both in terms of access to schooling and the quality of learning children receive,” Mr. Wright said. “Well-educated children represent a chance to lift Iraq into a future of security and hope.”

A 2006 survey by the Iraqi Government, supported by UNICEF, showed that in the previous year, even before the intensification of violence and displacement, one in six Iraqi children did not attend primary school. Reports from communities suggest attendance has since declined further in many areas, due to increased insecurity, clampdowns on security, and the threat of direct attacks on schools and teachers.

Displacement has placed an additional burden on Iraq’s school system, UNICEF said, pointing out that more than 220,000 school-aged children have had to flee their homes since early 2006. Many were initially unable to attend schools in their new areas for lack of clear policies on mid-year re-enrolment and may have missed months of schooling.

Throughout the summer, UNICEF has been supporting Iraq’s Ministry of Education to enhance children’s education prospects for this coming year. The agency and its partners are helping to restore damaged school infrastructure and add extra classrooms and water/sanitation facilities. Teachers are also being trained to provide psycho-social care for the many children affected by anxiety and loss.

For the first time in Iraq, UNICEF is promoting, together with local communities, a home learning curriculum for children forced to stay at home because of displacement or insecurity, while 20,000 out-of-school children are now enrolled in a special Accelerated Learning Programme to help them finish their education.

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3rd April, 2007


The number of students enrolled in school in southern Sudan has more than doubled since the end of the long-running civil war two years ago, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is backing a local campaign to provide hundreds of new or renovated classrooms and millions of schoolbooks, pencils and other materials to encourage better enrolment rates.

About 850,000 children are now enrolled in southern Sudan, UNICEF reported yesterday, up from an estimated 343,000 during the war, which ended with the signing of a comprehensive peace deal in January 2005. Some 34 per cent of the enrolled children are girls, considered a milestone given some traditional beliefs about education for girls.

Much of the increase has occurred only in the last year, since the Government of Southern Sudan’s education, science and technology ministry launched its “Go To School” initiative, supported by UNICEF.

That scheme, which aims to send 1.6 million children to school by the end of this year, was created after local leaders identified education as the key to reconstruction in the wake of the north-south war, which lasted for 21 years. A separate conflict has raged in the Darfur region in the country’s west since 2003.

Simon Strachan, UNICEF’s Director in southern Sudan, described education as “the single most important investment for southern Sudan. We need to do everything in our power to keep the classroom doors open for the children.”

UNICEF is appealing for $30 million for education in southern Sudan to train teachers, erect permanent schools and provide learning materials to help pupils to stay in the classroom and obtain a full education.

Michael Milli Hussein, the southern Sudanese Minister of Education, Science and Technology, called for unprecedented efforts and cooperation to make sure that enrolment rates continue to rise.

“Southern Sudan has already lost a generation to war,” he said. “We can’t afford to lose yet another generation to illiteracy. Now is the time to act.”

Under the initiative, which is being funded by Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands and the United States, German and Swiss national committees or funds for UNICEF among others, more than 200 permanent classrooms are being built and almost 300 existing rooms are being redeveloped.

The war had such a devastating effect on southern Sudan’s infrastructure that only 16 per cent of the 2,922 schools operating in the region had permanent buildings when fighting ended.

Last year more than 2,500 teachers were trained and this year a further 5,000 teachers are slated to receive training in English and teaching methods.

Millions of schoolbags, books, pencils and other learning materials have also been delivered to schools, using trucks or sometimes river barges or helicopters to reach the more remote locations.

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22 September, 2006


Building on the momentum of a United States-hosted conference on global literacy this week, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will organize a series of high-level regional conferences during 2007 and 2008.

“These conferences will address specific regional challenges in literacy with the aim of building cooperation among stakeholders and mobilizing resources for concrete interventions at country level,” UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said.

This week’s White House Conference on Global Literacy, organized and hosted by US First Lady Laura Bush in her capacity as Honorary Ambassador of the UN Literacy Decade (2003-2012), was an outstanding success that will inject “vital new momentum into the drive for literacy worldwide,” he added.

Mrs. Bush announced that the US would contribute $1 million to the Literacy Assessment and Monitoring Programme (LAMP), a UNESCO initiative to improve the accuracy of global data on literacy. “Improved monitoring will be absolutely essential to our success in meeting international literacy targets,” Mr. Matsuura said.

The first of the regional Literacy Conferences, for the Arab region, will be hosted in Qatar from 12 to 14 March, 2007, by Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al Missned, UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education. Azerbaijan, Mali and Costa Rica will also host regional conferences.

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21 August, 2006


One week after a cease-fire between Israel and Hizbollah went into effect, four experts from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today began a five-day mission to Lebanon to determine how the cultural agency can best help the country recover from the devastation caused by the conflict.

“In view of the situation in the field, it is now possible for UNESCO to start assisting Lebanon in its early recovery efforts, particularly with regard to cultural heritage and education,” said the Director-General of UNESCO, Koïchiro Matsuura.

The experts will meet with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and members of his government, including the culture and education ministers. In addition, the team will visit some of the country’s World Heritage sites, including Byblos, which has been affected by the oil spill from a power station that was hit by Israeli bombs in mid-July.

UNESCO is also focusing on restoring the educational system and providing post-trauma support for schoolchildren and teachers. Two follow-up missions are planned, with one focusing on cultural issues and the other on education, science and communication, Mr. Matsuura said.

The Lebanese government-led early recovery plan will be presented to an international donors’ conference for Lebanon in Sweden on 31 August.

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10 July, 2006


The United Nations World Heritage Committee has opened its 30th session in Vilnius, Lithuania, to pick new candidates to join a list that already includes sites as unique and diverse as the wilds of East Africa’s Serengeti, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the baroque cathedrals of Latin America.

“Cultural diversity is the ultimate purpose of our presence here,” UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura told yesterday’s opening session. “Indeed, you are gathered here to ensure that one of the most tangible aspects of the world’s cultural diversity, tangible heritage, be preserved and looked after, to be bequeathed as undamaged as possible to future generations.”

UNESCO’s World Heritage mission is to encourage countries to protect their natural and cultural heritage with management plans, technical assistance and professional training, and to provide emergency assistance for sites in immediate danger.

Twenty-one representatives of States Parties to UNESCO’s 1972 World Heritage Convention make up the World Heritage Committee which will decided what sites this year will join the 812 already on the agency’s World Heritage List.

Africa is severely under-represented on the List. Despite the continent’s great cultural and natural diversity, only eight percent of the sites are to be found in Africa. They constitute 43 per cent of sites on the List of World Heritage in Danger.

This year, the Committee will review 27 cultural sites, eight natural sites, two mixed sites and three trans-boundary sites presented by 30 countries.

It will also examine the 34 sites currently on the List of World Heritage in Danger. These face serious threat from a variety of causes such as pollution, pillaging, war, poorly managed tourism and poaching etc. The List includes the Minaret and Archaeological Vestiges of Jam in Afghanistan, Cologne Cathedral in Germany and Garamba National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The 1972 Convention encourages international cooperation in order to safeguard this common heritage. With 182 States Parties, it is one of the most widely ratified international legal instruments.

Today the Committee adopted recommendations on ways to respond to the threat of climate change to many World Heritage sites such as Mount Everest, the Great Barrier Reef and Venice, Italy. Most natural ecosystems and heritage sites, both on land and in the sea, are endangered by climate change. They include glaciers, coral reefs, mangroves, boreal and tropical forests, polar and alpine ecosystems, wetlands and grasslands.

The Committee requested the World Heritage Centre to prepare a policy document on the impact of climate change on World Heritage properties in consultation with experts, conservation practitioners, international organizations and civil society to be presented to the World Heritage Committee in 2008.

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20 June, 2006


Innovative projects to teach women, adolescents and other marginalized populations reading skills in five countries around the world were announced today as the winners of the 2006 Literacy prizes of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“The UNESCO prizes are awarded annually in recognition of particularly effective contributions to the fight against illiteracy, one of UNESCO’s priorities,” the agency said as it named the projects in Cuba, Morocco, Pakistan, India and Turkey.

“They call attention to the efforts of thousands of men and women who devote themselves year after year to advancing the cause of literacy for all,” it added.

The 2006 prizes include:

The $20,000 UNESCO International Reading Association Literacy Award, awarded to the National Commission for Human Development of Pakistan for a national programme that provides literacy classes to adults and out-of-school children, collects data through door-to-door surveys, and encourages community involvement in the enrolment of children in school.

The two $20,000 King Sejong Literacy Prizes, created by the Government of the Republic of Korea, went to the Mother Child Education Foundation (Turkey), which has developed teaching strategies for underprivileged girls and women as well as army conscripts, and to the Youth and Adult Literacy and Education Chair of the Latin American and Caribbean Pedagogical Institute of the Republic of Cuba for its work in more than 15 countries, notably Ecuador and Venezuela.

Two $20,000 UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, established with the People’s Republic of China, which were given to the Ministry of National Education of Morocco an innovative national literacy initiative designed specifically for marginalized adolescents in rural areas and to the Directorate of Literacy and Continuing Education of Rajastan for its Useful Learning through Literacy and Continuing Education Programme in Rajasthan, the largest and poorest state in India.
The winners will receive their prizes on International Literacy Day, celebrated on 8 September.

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15 June, 2006


An English schoolgirl who had learned her geography well and was able to prevent many deaths when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit Thailand in 2004 served as a prime example of how education can save lives during natural disasters as United Nations agencies launched a global campaign for education in disaster reduction in Paris today.

Tilly Smith was vacationing with her parents when the tsunami struck and she remembered the early warning signs – such as suddenly receding water – that she had been taught in a recent geography lesson. She alerted her parents, managed to clear the beach, and reportedly saved the lives of over a hundred people.

“Education and awareness-raising provide the foundations for a culture of prevention. If people in places threatened by natural disasters were conscious of the risks, and knew how to protect themselves, there would be fewer deaths, fewer wounded and less destruction when such disasters strike,” Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said at the launch at his agency’s headquarters.

The campaign, entitled Disaster Risk Reduction Begins at School, which is co-sponsored by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR ), aims to promote disaster reduction education in school curricula along with improving school safety by encouraging the application of construction standards that can withstand any kind of natural hazard, UNESCO said.

More than 200 million people are affected every year by natural catastrophes and children under 18 are among the most vulnerable, especially if they are attending school at the time disaster strikes. “Investing in school safety and education pays off in the long term,” said Sálvano Briceño, Director of ISDR.

Of the nations reporting to ISDR before January 2005, only 33 of 82 claimed to have disaster-related subjects in their national primary and secondary school curricula. In Mexico, Romania and New Zealand, teaching of disaster-related subjects is mandatory. Other countries such as Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba and Japan report significant primary and secondary teaching at municipal or state level.

In regard to school construction, Mr Briceño said: “Many countries are already drawing the lessons of past disasters and taking measures to improve the level of safety of their schools. We encourage every government in the world to include disaster reduction in the curricula of school children.”

Last March, 160 schools were destroyed during an earthquake in Iran and more than 200 school children perished in the Philippines after a mudslide covered their school.

The launch of the ISDR campaign took place during the International Symposium on “Progress and proposals regarding education for sustainable development” organized by the French National Committee for the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development in Paris, 14-16 June.

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31 May, 2006


Students from sub-Saharan Africans seeking higher education are the most mobile in the world, with one out of 16 studying abroad, according to a new study carried out by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

By contrast, only one out of every 250 North American students goes overseas for higher studies, which the UNESCO Institute for Statistics considers as the “least mobile group.”

Published in the Institute’s Global Education Digest 2006, the report presents the latest education statistics from primary to tertiary levels in more than 200 countries. It also tracks the flow of “mobile” students, who are defined as those who study in foreign countries where they are not permanent residents.

Between 1999 and 2004, the number of mobile students worldwide surged by 41 per cent from 1.75 million to 2.5 million, according to the Digest, which says this “reflects the rapid and overall expansion of high education.”

“What this report shows is that the real dynamic in tertiary education is coming from African, Arab and Chinese students,” says Institute Director Hendrik van der Pol. “They are the driving force behind the internationalization of higher education.”

China sends the greatest number of students abroad – 14 per cent of the global total – to the Untied States, Japan and the United Kingdom. This, according to the report, has dramatically changed the global distribution of mobile students. In 1999, East Africa sent about as many students abroad as Western Europe. And just within four years, students from the region outnumbered those from Western Europe by a third.

In relatively terms though, sub-Saharan African students are still the most mobile in the world as several countries in the region have many or more students abroad than at home. Most of them have no choice but to go abroad because of limited access to domestic universities or the poor quality of instruction, UNESCO said.

Yet such students are rarely counted in national statistics. For example, in Cape Verde, just 6 per cent of the university-aged population is reportedly enrolled in higher education institutions. But this figure would double if students abroad were taken into account. Similarly, in Mauritius, the gross enrolment ratio would rise from 17 per cent to almost 24 per cent and from 6 to 11 per cent in Botswana.

To help provide a global perspective, the Digest has developed new indicators to monitor the flow of students in and out of more than 100 countries. It also lists the top five destinations for students from each country and region.

For sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the top destination is Western Europe.Students mainly go to France (21 per cent), the United Kingdom (12 per cent), Germany (six per cent) and Portugal (5 per cent).

According to the report, about 23 per cent of the world’s mobile students go to schools in the United States. About 12 per cent study in the United Kingdom, 11 per cent in Germany, 10 per cent in France, 7 per cent in Australia and 5 per cent in Japan.

The Digest also evaluates the extent to which the universities of these host countries cam absorb more mobile students. They already account for 17 per cent of total tertiary enrolment in Australia, for example, and 13 per cent in the United Kingdom. But this figure falls to 2 per cent in Japan and the Russian Federation and 3 per cent in the United States and Canada.

The Arab States have seen a steady rise in student mobility over the past five years and now account for 7 per cent of the global total. In Djibouti, for example, there are three students abroad for every two at home. Mauritania, Morocco and Qatar also have high ratio of students abroad, with 22 per cent, 15 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

For their part, Western European countries, mainly France, Germany, Greece and Italy send more than 400,000 students abroad or 17 per cent of the global total. Also, there are as many or more students abroad than at home in Cyprus, Andorra and Luxemburg.

South and West Asia accounts for 8 per cent of the global total, with two thirds of students coming from India, according to the report. The region sends the highest proportion – 50 per cent – to North America, mainly to the United States. Some 25 per cent of students from this region get enrolled in British and Australian universities.

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