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One Laptop Per Child Initiative Panel Discussion and Remarks with Senator John McCain
“remarks”
by
Said Tayeb Jawad
Ambassador of Afghanistan
to the United StatesWashington, D.C.


September 16, 2009

Senator McCain,
Ambassador Haqqani,
Professor Negroponte,
Distinguished Members and Staffers of Congress,
Dear friends from the US Government and USAID,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Please allow me to convey the sincere appreciation of the Government and people of Afghanistan, especially the Afghan Minister of Education, for your support for the One Laptop per Child Initiative.

I am especially grateful to Senator McCain for his leadership and friendship to Afghanistan and this program.

As well as, Professor Negroponte, for his commitment to education and ability to mobilize resources to change the world, one child at a time.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A few years ago, a girl’s school in Logar, a province south of Kabul, was set fire by terrorists. The Moghul Khail School, consisting of two large tents, was set ablaze at midnight. The next day, every little girl, every student of Mughul Khail showed up at the school. They sat next to the ashes of their burned classrooms, under the blazing sun, and insisted on continuing with their lessons. This act of terror and courage symbolize our struggle.

On one hand, you have the extremists and terrorists, who fear and despise education and knowledge. They are intentionally targeting schools. On the other, you have the Afghan people, who recognize the dire consequences of missing opportunities to educate themselves and their children.

We are rebuilding our education system to provide Afghans with what they demand. We have made significant progress in building the hardware of education. Due to your support, 15 new universities have opened their doors, bringing the country’s total higher education institutions to 17.

Thousands of students have enrolled, raising the country’s number of enrolled students from four thousand under the Taliban to more than 76 thousand. Across the country, 4,500 new schools have been built, mostly with USAID support.

More than 6.5 million Afghan students are back in the classroom with millions of newly-printed books. School curriculum has been completely revised, updated and restored.

While we have made significant progress in building the hardware of education—schools, buildings, news books and etc., developing the software of education is proving to be much harder. We still need thousands of better trained teachers, especially female teachers and new curricula for high schools.

The number of students in Afghan schools has jumped. However, the quality of education needs drastic improvements. Frankly, it may take years for us to be able to send better qualified teachers to every classroom, but a laptop changes the learning environment immediately. While we are struggling to improve the quality of education, a computer immediately revolutionalizes the classroom and drastically improves access to knowledge.

By providing a laptop to a child, we are connecting him with his peers all over the world, and encouraging him to share and collaborate, two very important values to build a peaceful, pluralistic and prosperous society. A laptop enhances a young student’s interest in school and gives him confidence and a greater sense of empowerment. Once again, important characteristics to prevent him from becoming prey to extremist forces. Extremists are capitalizing on despair, ignorance and poverty.

We are learning in Afghanistan that education is key not only to fighting extremism, but also to establishing gender equality and institutionalizing human rights.

We are grateful to the US Government, USAID and Congress, especially to Senator McCain, for their friendship, support and clear leadership in Afghanistan have made significant improvements possible. Just several years ago, the idea of putting five thousand laptops in the hands of Afghan children was a distant dream.

Today, Afghanistan is a better place because of your unwavering support and courage to end suffering and injustice. Senator McCain, your vision for peace, prosperity and freedom is greatly appreciated.

Children in developing countries and Afghan children are fortunate to have friends like Senator McCain, Professor Negroponte and many others. Together with your help, the students of today have a better tomorrow.

We need your continued and clear commitment to succeed and sustained engagement to root out extremism in Afghanistan. Please support education

and the OLPC initiative, as an effective tool to fight extremism.

Thank you.