UMass Amherst School of Education Helps Train the Next Generation of Education Faculty in Afghanistan
May 21, 2012
AMHERST, Mass. - Twenty-one Afghan teachers who received master’s degrees in education in Kabul this spring are returning to their university classrooms embracing a hard-won commitment to skills and values of leadership, research methodology, teaching and assessment forged in partnership with faculty and students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s School of Education.
It is the third class to complete the Kabul Education University (KEU) graduate program in education, established in collaboration with UMass Amherst’s Center for International Education (CIE) in 2006 under a six-year contract with the U.S. Agency for International Development.
It was also a graduation of sorts for the program itself, which was fully turned over to KEU in December.
CIE director David Evans was on hand in Kabul to address the graduates, telling them "The future of Afghan education is in your hands."
"When all five classes have graduated," Evans noted, "there will be more than 100 faculty members produced by this degree program. This will be 10 percent of the total of faculty members in faculties of education in Afghanistan today."
The real impact of the small number of KEU-trained faculty members on Afghan society, with its population of more than 30 million people, can’t be overstated, says Joseph Berger, associate dean for research and engagement at UMass Amherst’s School of Education, who has made five trips to Afghanistan in the past year alone.
The 44 teachers who completed the program prior to this year have produced 17 scholarly publications, including nine by women. In addition, more than one-quarter of the 66 total graduates so far have been promoted to important leadership positions, including two chancellors, two vice chancellors, two deans and seven department heads. By teaching in the program as faculty members, two graduates are also helping to boost its sustainability under Afghan administration.
The fact that half of the students in master’s program at Kabul Education University are women and half are from regions outside Kabul gives the program a diversity that is critical to its success, says Berger. The admissions for the fifth cohort recently took place with the same approach but without CIE involvement.
Students in the program focus on "best practices" for classroom teaching and assessment, assuming the skills necessary to guide an "active classroom" - where students are active participants in the learning process rather than passive recipients of lecture information. They also immerse themselves in developing strong research skills, and in the kind of leadership that will help them guide Afghanistan’s educational system into a new era.
Those three principles - the pedagogy and assessment of the classroom, the importance of research and the necessity of leadership - are also central to the way CIE carries out its mission.
"We don’t impose our expertise. We value the culture and our process is shared," said Berger. "What we deal with is not just technical, but also relational and cultural." Classes, he adds, are taught not in English, but in the Dari language, one of the two primary native languages in Afghanistan.
Building a graduate educational infrastructure in a country that has been in various states of war for the past several decades has not always been without intrigues and difficulties, and could not have been done without the art of gentle negotiation.
"We have seen amazing progress and amazing frustration in our time there," says Berger. "The negative stories you hear about Afghanistan may be accurate, but, the situation is far more complicated than those stories would have us believe. There is an untold story here. The media tends to focus on all of the negatives in Afghanistan, but there are so many good things happening as well."
Over the years, the center has also been active in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Palestine.
Asked about the toll that such work takes in so many places where the bullets have only recently stopped flying - if they have stopped at all - Berger says that part of the program’s energy and optimism has to do with respect for locale and its people and understanding the absolute necessity of the work. That work benefits everyone, everywhere, he says.
"We do it because we are good at it and have the experience to do it well," he says. "We don’t go where things are easy. That isn’t where we are needed."