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How Afghanistan’s Building Its College System From Indiana

As interest in higher education in Afghanstian grows, Purdue University is helping to train Afghan faculty members how to be more effective college instructors.

A building at American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.

Photo: Wikimedia

A building at American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.

As American forces begin a slow draw-down in Afghanistan, the U.S. State Department says higher education will be key to empowering Afghans to rebuild their country. But there aren’t enough qualified college professors in Afghanistan.

So Purdue University is stepping in. Six Afghan university faculty members spent the past two and a half months in West Lafayette learning how to be more effective instructors.

It’s called the Afghan Junior Faculty Development Program. The junior faculty are here, not to earn degrees, but to learn what makes a Western university tick.  The faculty observe classes, receive English instruction, and meet with Velasquez for State Department-funded training on how to be more effective teachers.

Junior faculty member Forouzan, 27, considers it a civic duty to bring that knowledge home to build her country’s university system.

“What does my country need and what should I do for my country? That we see a lot among the young generations because they think they have a big task,” Forouzan says. (StateImpact Indiana agreed not to use the faculty member’s last names for security reasons, as their travel in the United States could be viewed with suspicion.)

Interest in Afghanistan’s higher education system has exploded. Fewer than 10,000 students were signed up for college courses when the Taliban fell.  Now, the Afghan government projects university enrollments of more than 100,000 students by 2014.

But many Afghan faculty members, by Western standards, lack proper training. None of the Afghan junior faculty members have Masters Degrees or Doctorates, which aren’t offered at Afghan universities. Purdue professor Kevin McNamara, who runs the program, says the Afghan instructors come to Indiana to catch up.

“They work hard, among their peers, they’re very competitive, they’re very bright people, but if they had been in a different country, they would’ve been pushed a lot more,” McNamara says.

To truly grow their country’s higher education system, the Afghan faculty will need more western education — an MA or PhD.  But McNamara says their Purdue experience helps give them a foot in the door at a foreign university.  Many of the faculty members want to apply for the Fulbright program.

Deputy assistant secretary of State Jim Moore helps oversee the junior faculty program at universities nationally. He adds the program doesn’t just open doors to higher credentials.

“They maintain contacts with the United States really for the rest of their professional lives. Through educational contacts — university to university — business contacts,” Moore says.

For now, Afghan universities still face challenges most American universities don’t face. Forouzan says the biggest challenge is “security.”

“I’m sure that if we have security, a very safe environment, safe place to work, to educate,” Forouzan says, “Afghanistan’s speed of changing would be more and more.”

The faculty members also say they’re concerned about access to the internet and decent roads. Faculty members say will take time to change for the better, but maybe not as much time as Americans think.

Kyle Stokes

Kyle Stokes joined WFIU/WTIU in 2011 as an education reporter and blogger for StateImpact Indiana, a collaborative reporting venture between WFIU and NPR News. He comes to Bloomington from Columbia, Mo., where he was a producer and reporter for NPR member station KBIA-FM and NBC affiliate KOMU-TV. Originally from Minneapolis, Minn., Stokes is a proud graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and an even prouder Minnesota Twins fan.

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