Helping Children Learn by Revitalizing School Environments

December 9, 2008


After successfully training more than 49,000 educators, the Building Education Support Systems for Teachers (BESST) project is taking steps to maximize the impact of its interventions by supporting school managers and community leaders in creating and implementing School Improvement Plans (SIPs).

So far, communities even in insecure areas, such as Khost province, have responded enthusiastically to the task of revitalizing the school environments where their children learn.

“I remember being fond of school when I was a child,” said Mr. Hayat Mangal, a tribal elder in Bak district, Khost province. “But the poor conditions of my school always made me sad.”

Mr. Hayat, now in his fifties, added, “I always knew I wanted to help and that I wanted to improve the education we provide to our children here, but I wasn’t sure how…until I met these BESST trainers.”

Following the first school improvement meeting, where the principal and teachers articulated the school’s needs, Mr. Hayat agreed to cover the entire cost of digging a well for the Taraki High School in Bak district. “When the teachers told me that the students needed safe and clean drinking water, I finally knew how I could help.”

BESST is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and managed by Creative Associates International, Inc.

Working with district and provincial Ministry of Education staff, BESST’s District Training Team (DT3) trainers have helped principals, teachers, elders and community members organize meetings and facilitate the drafting and implementing of SIPs.

These SIP shuras, or local councils, meet on a regular basis and discuss challenges and issues that are most important to them. In many cases, these shuras design plans to create a school environment that is safe, clean, pleasant and large enough so that students themselves are comfortable and motivated to learn. Some SIP shuras have prioritized safety, such as a community in Khost where members donated funds, time, and masonry expertise to build compound walls around the school.

Others, as in Sar-e-Pul province, found local engineers and doctors willing to volunteer their time to teach science and math classes in the local secondary school; still others, as in Kandahar province, recruited a local dentist, who agreed to donate a few hours every month to examine students’ teeth and gums.

In Bak district, news of Mr. Hayat’s generosity quickly spread. Within two weeks, parents and community members collected 700 kilograms of wheat from local farmers. The proceeds from sales of this harvest bought the pipes and a hand-pump for the water well under construction at Taraki School. Shortly after that, in the neighboring district of Ismail Khel, a tribal elder working with the SIP shura donated the equivalent of $100 to reconstruct a part of Sarband High School’s compound wall, which had been destroyed by a heavy storm last year.

Haji Muhammad Din, 70, told BESST that he was proud to help the local school financially, but more than that, “It was very satisfying to see the wall constructed by the hands of the villagers themselves. Afghanistan has always had a tradition of ashar (communal works) but BESST trainers have provided our communities with a more organized and efficient way to get students what they need.”

BESST hopes that these visible achievements, carried out by local communities and facilitated by BESST’s trainers, will encourage an increasing number of community members to participate in the SIP shuras throughout its 11 provinces.

In addition to training about 50,000 teachers and principals in multiple MoE-approved curricula, BESST is supplementing those face-to-face trainings with educational radio programs, as well as working with the Ministry to help develop national competencies and credentialing systems for both teachers and school managers.

— Alison Long, BESST External Relations Manager in Afghanistan.

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