AFGHANISTAN:

BESST Helps Students to Think Creatively

February 29, 2008

Features_BIG_Afghanistan

Drawing two elaborate flowers on the cracked chalkboard, Ms. Hawa, a 26-year teaching veteran, asks her class to draw their own interpretations of this image and her students respond with enthusiasm.

Hunched over thin notebooks, students draw and erase furiously in rendering their own likeness of the chalkboard drawing.

This teacher’s simple exercise is intended to motivate students to reflect and think creatively and ultimately to re-direct Afghan students’ educational experiences away from rote memorization of facts. Twenty-six years ago, having completed grade 12 herself, Ms. Hawa taught for two years before joining the faculty of the Charmgar-Khana Girls’ School in Shiberghan, Jawzjan Province.

“When the students work among themselves, issues and questions arise, that even I sometimes don’t know the perfect answer to,” Ms. Hawa said. “But I let them talk it through and they end up directing what they learn, because they create the questions.”

And since her own graduation, Ms. Hawa, like the majority of Afghanistan’s teachers, has had little or no opportunity to undergo training to improve her teaching technique and methodology.

But last winter she completed a two-week Building Education Support Systems for Teachers (BESST) teacher training seminar on fostering student-centered education.

After three decades of conflict ravaged the foundation of Afghanistan’s educational system, the BESST project has been working closely in coordination with the Ministry of Education which asked the initiative to train 54,000 teachers of primary schools in 11 provinces. BESST is supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development. The project is implemented by Creative Associates International, Inc.

Primarily a teacher of religious studies and the Quran, Ms. Hawa sometimes substitutes for drawing and sports classes because Charmgar-khana Girls’ School lacks the needed five full-time teachers.

“During the mujahideen period,” Ms. Hawa recalled, “Our school held classes in the police station. While I taught, the policeman would stand outside the door and guard us. I also think he was listening, learning the lesson, too. When class ended, he would come inside and go back to his police work.”

Today, Ms. Hawa and her students attend class inside a large tent, situated in a large field buffeted by wind, dust and heat.

“This is not an easy job to teach in these conditions,” Ms. Hawa says. “But I love being a teacher. I enjoyed the [BESST] training so much and know that it was valuable, because I now can see that my students are learning more – as I use the techniques I learned.”

The BESST project will also assist the Afghan Ministry of Education in developing competencies, training curricula, and credentialing systems for teachers and school managers.

—Alison Long, BESST External Relations Manager.

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