The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has hailed the opening of the school year in Afghanistan, where for the first time in six years, girls were among the over 1 million students attending formal classes.On Saturday, with UNICEF assistance, some 3,000 schools across Afghanistan admitted more than 1.5 million girls and boys. The agency’s Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, praised the country’s interim authorities for their dedication to education.“Over the last few months, the incredible efforts of the Afghan people to get their children back to school has reminded us all about the importance of education in the life of any nation – and in the peace and stability of our world,” she told a ceremony in Kabul over the weekend. “You have inspired us to look at what might be possible in other countries where millions of girls and boys never get the chance to go to school.”Also attending Saturday’s ceremony were the Chairman of the Afghan Interim Administration, Hamid Karzai, and Lakhdar Brahimi, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, who hailed the “historic” start of the school term. He paid tribute to all involved, including the Afghan authorities and teachers, as well as the Government of Japan, which provided substantial funding for the effort. “But today should mark the beginning – not the end – of our efforts,” Mr. Brahimi said. “We cannot afford to fail the children of Afghanistan.”Over the last several weeks, UNICEF supported the Afghan Administration’s efforts to open schools by delivering more than 7,000 tons of learning materials to virtually every school in the country, supplying 93 per cent with items such as textbooks, blackboards, pencils and notebooks, teaching aids and tents.On Sunday, a UN spokesman reported that other ceremonies were held in provinces across Afghanistan, including war-ravaged areas such as Herat and Kandahar.According to UNICEF, Afghan officials estimate that an additional 1 million children may return to the public school system in April, and another million in May and June, as displaced populations return home.