With Afghan private school growth, teachers gain in-demand skills
By Michelle Tolson
June 23, 2015
Kabul—During the Taliban’s reign, the extremists outlawed private education. When the Taliban fell in 2001and former Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran returned home, private schools boomed.
Today, from 666 to 800 primary, secondary and high school institutions are educating an estimated 200,000 Afghan students, according to government and research data. While not outpacing the 14,000 government-run schools, private schools offer additional curricula options, like English language and computer coursework
Modern private schools demand modern curriculum—a challenge for the more than 11,000 private school teachers in the country, 90 percent of whom are women, according to a recent study of private and public education in Afghanistan conducted by Karlstad University in Sweden. Private school teachers earn less than their public school counterparts, are less experienced and have weaker teaching skills, the study found.
Challenges for female teachers
“Female teachers, because of the closed environment in Afghanistan, can feel fear and can’t function well. These challenges are hard for them,” says Zainab Bromand, a 23-year-old Job Placement Officer for Green Wish for Afghanistan Educational and Service Organization, a nongovernmental organization that provides training and capacity building to female private sector employees and job seekers with support from the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program. The program is funded by the U.S. Agency for Development and implemented by Creative Associates International.
The Ministry of Education sets the curricula and guidelines for all schools, both government-run and private, but it does not yet have the capacity to monitor and support private institutions and instructors—according to feedback from training providers and employers at private schools.
This lack of professional training, particularly for women, is not unique to the private school sector.
“In our country, in many parts of the private sector, there are problems for women,” says Parvin Poran, Project Manager for the Society Empowerment Organization, a training provider that also equips women with skills for private sector jobs, with support from the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program. “They work, yet have problems or can’t meet the requirements of their work….and then have to leave the job.”
Meeting the private sector’s demands
To better prepare female employees and equip them with the skills they need for career success, the Afghanistan Workforce Development Program is going to the source—asking private sector companies about the skills they require of their workers through labor market demand assessments.
“The private sector needs to be able to obtain a specific group of skills…skills that match the terms of reference for the position. Their employees can’t meet all the functions and are often missing two or three functions listed on the Terms of Reference,” explains Salem Helali, who leads USAID’s Afghanistan Workforce Development Program.
Based on findings of the labor market demand assessments, private training providers supported by the program develop and adapt job-training curriculum to fit private sector needs for specific skills.
Through interviews, surveys and focus groups, the labor market demand assessments let private sector employers “tell their story,” says Helali.
He advises those carrying out the assessments: “Do not impose. Listen. [Private sector companies] don’t need to hear about your development model for business. They need to run effectively. We do not want to control how demand assessments are conducted. We care about the results… in a way that fits the private sector’s needs.”
Instead of having these needs filled with expatriate workers from Pakistan, India, Thailand, Iran, the Philippines and the West, the program aims to create employment opportunities for Afghans. Amidst political instability and dim employment prospects over the last decade, waves of educated Afghans have left the country, often seeking work. Building the country’s private sector is helping to stem this brain drain and invest in Afghanistan’s large youth population.
The Afghanistan Workforce Development Program is currently implementing job training through 23 grants in key sectors like finance and project management, marketing, information and communications technology, construction and in sectors in need of youth and women.
Prior to sending their staff to trainings, the employers sign memorandums of understanding with training providers, promising pay raises of at least 3 percent for staff who complete training.
To meet the demands of private schools for better quality teachers, the program currently partners with three training providers. Green Wish provides training for about 20 schools in Mazar-e-Sharif, Herat and Kabul cities; Society Empowerment Organization works with 14 schools in Herat and Kabul; and the Kaweyan Business Development Services, another provider, currently trains teachers from 10 schools in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.
Key staff from these organizations also complete Master Training of Trainers courses funded by USAID. These Master Training courses were conducted in the three regional cities of Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif to further the transfer of modern teaching methods.
Modern teaching skills for a multicultural Afghanistan
For the mostly young and inexperienced private school teachers, courses in modern teaching methods offer a much needed boost to their daily work, while also benefiting their employers.
Private schools have a high demand for teacher training in time management and current teaching methods, says Nadia Majrooh, a Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for Society Empowerment Organization. The organization is also offering a number of courses in child psychology, the training for which is said to be lacking in both private and public schools.
“Our curricula was designed for this,” she says, noting that the training curricula was based on the findings of the labor market demand assessments
Training providers like Society Empowerment Organization are getting creative as they design courses that meet private school demands and also prepare teachers for educating students in a multicultural Afghanistan and an interconnected world.
At a recent teacher training on “Best Teaching Methods” through Green Wish, private school teachers presented sample lessons on other cultures from Brazil, Chile and Canada and received feedback on their presentations to a class of 22 other teachers, both employed and those searching for work.
Presenting other countries as learning tools is a useful way for educators to learn how deal with sensitive ethnic and political issues, according to Green Wish trainer, Nasor Hassani.
Due to the historical clashes and strong emotions surrounding the local ethnic context, learning about other cultures provides a safe framework for students to not only explore the world outside Afghanistan, but to avoid conflicts within the classroom, explained Hassani.
Active learning comes to the classroom
Equipped with new skills and fresh ideas for their classes, trained teachers are bringing a new energy to their schools.
“I learn different methods on a daily basis. Whatever I learn, I implement the next day,” says Sima Sajadi, a 25-year-old a teacher at Arshad High School located in Kabul.
Sajadi, who has many students who have returned to Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan and Iran, says she uses different activities like games to draw in even the most unengaged students to keep them active and interested in lessons.
While simple day trips to historical locations can be a useful education tool, Sajadi says she has to be careful because of the risk of violence in the country. By brainstorming with the other teachers at the training, she learned that obtaining permission from her students’ parents before a proposed outing is a useful way to plan based on security concerns.
Trainer Hassani says that collaboration among educators, active methods in classwork and sharing ideas outside the classroom helps teachers support each other.
“They have learned different ways to focus on students and change their work to student-centered from teacher-centered. They prefer active, practical teaching methods and practice, like role-laying, discussion groups, brainstorming and networking,” he says.
Private schools appreciate a model that takes into consideration their needs, according the Mina Khashei, head of Green Wish. She says, private sector employers welcomed the assessment and even came to the trainings, which allowed them to observe how their demands from the assessment had been incorporated into training curricula.
While it can be hard for private schools to initially understand the importance of paying for their teachers’ salaries during the training, Khashei says that after the trainings they are able to see immediate value in improved coursework.
“Teachers implement what they learn, which shows in their work at their schools,” she said.
With additional reporting by Aziz Gulbahari
Edited by Aziz Gulbahari and Jillian Slutzke