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In Afghanistan, a focus on education

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN - Since the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan's schools have seen a "massive return" of children, the UN Children's Fund said last week. An ongoing survey by UNICEF, which has now covered 20 of the country's 32 provinces, found that nearly 1.25 million children had returned to school since March. One-third of those students were girls, who were banned from education during the Taliban's rule.

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that the bulk of his country's annual budget will be spent on health and education, and that defense and interior ministries would have to cut back. Although classes for girls resumed in November, students have had to work without adequate heat, electricity, and furniture. Teachers earn about $30 a month.

"When I talk to people, first they say, 'Get rid of guns,' " said Karzai. "The second is, they want improved education."

Brought to you by the letters H, I, and V

NEW YORK - This September, the South African version of "Sesame Street" will introduce a character with a problem far more serious than scraped knees or missing cookies: She's HIV-positive. The muppet will join the cast at the urging of the South African government to help educate children about AIDS. Some 4.7 million South Africans – 1 in 9 – are HIV-positive, more than in any other country.

Sesame Workshop hasn't revealed the new character's name, but it will be a girl muppet who is an orphan, said Robert Knezevic, head of the company's international division. In one script, the character is shunned by children who don't want to play with her because she is HIV-positive, but the other muppets rally around her, he said.

BU president Jon Westling steps down

Jon Westling has resigned as president of Boston University, saying he wants to return to the classroom, and BU Chancellor John Silber has taken over as interim president. Silber, who headed the university for 25 years before passing the reins to Westling in 1996, will act as president until the university completes a national search.

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