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UNICEF launches Schools for Asia to improve education for millions

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By Sabine Dolan

New York, USA, 10 January 2012 – UNICEF is launching Schools for Asia today, an international fundraising initiative to improve the access and quality of education for disadvantaged children living across Asia and the Pacific.

Schools for Asia is supported by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and tennis star Serena Williams, who is featured in a special public service announcement released today.

Education has always been close to Williams’s heart. “When I was a little girl, my parents taught me the importance of school, and I came to value education. Yet millions of children around the world don’t have that chance,” says Ms. Williams.

The Schools for Asia campaign will help the most marginalized, excluded or otherwise vulnerable children, including girls and children from poor families and of ethnic minorities. The model is simple: Ensuring schools operate in the best interest of each and every child by providing young students with trained teachers and a safe, protective and inclusive learning environment. These child-friendly schools also strive to offer better resources and facilities, including safe drinking water and separate latrines for boys and girls.

Millions out of school

The initiative will operate in Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Timor-Leste and Viet Nam. The goal is not only to provide children with better and more accessible schools, but also, to keep them there.

Among the 67 million children who are currently not enrolled in school worldwide, 26 million of them live in the Asia-Pacific Region.

“Getting a child into school is only the first step, and many countries are struggling to keep children in school until they finish a full education cycle,” explains UNICEF Regional Director for the East-Asia and Pacific Region Dan Toole.

“High rates of repetition and drop-out are often linked to poor quality education and lack of school preparedness. We hope that Schools for Asia will help bring further attention to the challenges faced by millions of children in South and East Asia,” adds Mr. Toole.

Time is of the essence

Schools for Asia follows the successful Schools for Africa campaign, which was launched in 2004 as an international fundraising partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Peter Krämer Stiftung (foundation).

By December 2010, over 5.5 million children had received an improved education thanks to Schools for Africa and the international support of donors and partners.

“This progress would not have been possible without the support of the many individuals, corporations and foundations with whom we are privileged to be working,” says UNICEF Director of Private Fundraising and Partnerships Leila Pakkala. “Donors worldwide will have a unique opportunity to replicate the success for Asia and help give millions of children the chance for a better future.”

UNICEF works with a broad range of local, national and international partners to realize the educational and gender-equality objectives established in the Millennium Development Goals. But in UNICEF’s efforts to reach these goals by 2015, time is of the essence.

With the dedicated support of its partners, the Schools for Africa and Schools for Asia child-friendly models are creating forward momentum at a crucial time.

“Quality education is essential for development. It provides the knowledge, skills and confidence children need to shape a better future for themselves, their families and their countries,” says Ms. Williams.