School Science Labs for Rural Afghanistan
October 10, 2018
Science and mathematics are critical elements of a modern education. In most of Afghanistan, however, especially in rural areas, science is taught using outdated approaches and materials, by underqualified and inexperienced instructors, in classrooms equipped with nothing more than a simple blackboard and chalk. Most Afghan students do not currently have access to professionally qualified science teachers and properly equipped laboratories where theoretical science can be demonstrated through practical, hands-on experiments. As a result, most rural students shy away from science or show little interest in the subject, while teachers struggle to teach without modern tools or curriculum.
In response to this urgent educational need, and with international support, the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the General Directorate of Science and Educational Technology (GDSET) have developed an intensive, in-service training program to address the knowledge gap among science teachers and laboratory technicians and equip them to deliver an updated, modern science curriculum. Through the USAID-funded Strengthening Education in Afghanistan project (SEA II), the Asia Foundation has partnered with both MoE and GDSET to improve science education in Afghanistan.
SEA II has provided in-depth, theoretical and practical trainings in science, mathematics, and computer literacy to teachers and lab technicians in over 120 schools, mostly located in traditionally underserved northern, northeastern, eastern, southeastern, and western provinces like Badakhshan, Balkh, Bamyan, Herat, Nangarhar, Laghman, Kandahar, Khost, Nuristan, Samangan, and Takhar. The project has equipped schools there with a full array of laboratory equipment and materials that afford students the opportunity to conduct practical science experiments. Quality science and mathematics education in these rural provinces also enhances students’ general academic performance and helps them prepare for the university entrance examinations (Kankor), the gateway to higher education.
Since 2014, the Foundation has helped train more than 1,860 teachers—1,092 men and 768 women—from selected schools to improve their scientific knowledge and teaching methods. These trainings have produced measurable results—a roughly 40 percent improvement in science knowledge according to post-training assessments—among teachers and lab technicians in each province.
During the ongoing second phase of project activities, eight regional GDSET-managed centers were established and have now have been upgraded to “centers of excellence,” fitted with internet service, LCD TVs, smartboards, and laboratory equipment to support the professional development of science teachers and GDSET academics. Through these centers, the Foundation and GDSET hope to build the capacity of teachers working in STEM fields as well as in English, computer literacy, and research. The overall objective is to enable the GDSET centers to provide modern, high-quality science instruction to both teachers and students.
The Foundation has also helped GDSET to organize a number of extracurricular activities in the provinces to cultivate interest in science, including science fairs and interscholastic science competitions that give students the opportunity to practice and showcase their scientific knowledge. Subsequent assessments of student academic performance have shown significant knowledge gains a year after the start of the project.
Faridullah Halim is a case in point. Now a medical student at Paktia University, he credits his science teacher and the support of the Foundation for preparing him for the Kankor. “I am very thankful to USAID and The Asia Foundation for providing such a unique opportunity for us to learn science and mathematics,” he says. Ms. Freshta, a physics teacher in Kandahar, is also grateful for the training she and her fellow science teachers received under SEA II. She “learned significantly about science” through the Foundation’s trainings, she says, and “conducting experiments left me more interested in the sciences and wanting to learn more so that I could teach my students better.”
Through SEA II, the Foundation, in direct collaboration with GDSET and MoE, has greatly expanded science trainings and is rapidly improving the overall quality of science education in Afghanistan. Teachers and students in some of the most rural areas of the country are now benefiting from modern science curricula, better teaching methods, and fully equipped science laboratories. The Foundation is committed to ensuring that all students in Afghanistan can benefit from a quality education, so that students like Faridullah Halim and teachers like Ms. Freshta can continue to explore their interest and passion for the sciences.
Mohammad Mustafa Kazemi is a program officer for The Asia Foundation in Afghanistan. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.
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