AMHERST, Mass. – Having traveled to Afghanistan three times in the past five months, the last thing professor David Evans seems to think about is withdrawal.
In fact, as the United States prepares to end its military presence in that country 2014, Evans and the project team at the School of Education’s Center for International Education (CIE) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which he co-directs, are ramping up efforts to help create, expand and extend new higher education infrastructure there under a $11.2 million agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Evans is principal investigator for the CIE’s Higher Educations Project in Afghanistan, which, among other accomplishments, established the first functioning master’s degree program in Afghanistan in at least 30 years and had awarded degrees to 65 graduates in three classes, half of whom are women, before turning the program over to Kabul Education University this summer. He co-directs the program with School of Education associate dean for research and engagement Joseph Berger.
Since 2006, CIE has worked with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Higher Education on quality assurance and capacity building and with the 18 faculties of education that offer four-year teacher education programs. Previously, CIE was engaged for five years in Afghanistan as a partner in a consortium, led by the Academy for Educational Development.
The new agreement more than doubles CIE’s current contract in Afghanistan, bringing the total to more than $21 million through August 2013. Evans says the program will focus on helping the public system of higher education build its capacity for planning and management skills training.
It will, said Evans, also help:
· Strengthen the development of graduate education by launching a master’s level academic program in public policy and administration;
· Enhance faculty pedagogy, based on modules previously developed through HEP, within other faculties in Afghanistan;
· Develop a model technical program that will be the foundation for a “community college” system in that country.
Evans stresses that, looking forward, higher education demands in Afghanistan will increase exponentially.
“There is a huge need for educational capacity,” he said. “The situation is simply not tenable.
Evans points to how far the country has come in its support for higher education as the constitution of Afghanistan promises free public education to its citizens through the B.A. level. At the same time, the overall literacy rate for those 15 years of age and older hovers at approximately 28 percent.
Afghanistan’s National Higher Education Strategic Plan estimates that in 1995, less than two percent of those over 25 had any tertiary education at all, and there were fewer than 8,000 students in higher education in the entire country.
By 2009, that number had risen to about 62,000. By 2014, there are projected to be more than 600,000 students in the system.
“There clearly is still a great deal to be done,” said Evans.
Both Berger and Evans stressed the importance of extending the kinds of higher education available to include options comparable to the community college model in the U.S.
“This is, in many respects, a brand new idea for them,” said Berger. “For example, comparatively speaking, there are plenty of engineers in Afghanistan, but not enough technicians. Engineers outnumber technicians six to one, the inverse of many developing nations. In mining, for instance, there is a need for a whole layer of supervisors and technicians that doesn’t exist.”
Berger added that the program is driven and informed by the values that have characterized the School of Education itself – by working with the Afghan people to build teaching, planning and management skills in a way that they can be spread throughout the country by Afghans themselves.
“The foundation grows out of the responsiveness and respect of all the parties involved,” said Berger. “The impetus for change in a country like Afghanistan is a shared endeavor.”
More information on the USAID Higher Education Project in Afghanistan is available from the USAID website.