The Colgate Scene
May 2006

From Colgate to Kabul

Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said Tayeb Jawad, was a keynote speaker at a conference that explored the role U.S. institutions can play in supporting education in developing nations. The conference was developed out of Colgate's Project Afghanistan initiative. Attorney Mike Smith '70 (right) participated. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]


Afghanistan's future: investing in human capital
Chancellor Ashraf Ghani of Kabul University in Afghanistan details efforts to revitalize his university in a recent interview for the Colgate Conversations podcast series

In the years since the ouster of the Taliban regime, the educational system in Afghanistan has begun a remarkable transformation. University enrollment has skyrocketed from around 4,000 to 40,000. Women now account for 24 percent of college students, compared to just 1 percent in 2002. About 5.6 million Afghan children regularly attend school; previously, the Taliban barred girls from the classroom.

Still, the vast majority of women in the country are unable to read, and most institutions of learning and libraries -- as well as businesses, government agencies, and the technological infrastructure -- need to be reconstructed, according to Said Tayeb Jawad, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States. "We have come a long way, but we are not out of the woods," he said.

That is where Colgate can help.

"We are building new schools with your assistance, but a school without a teacher, books, and curriculum is a waste of valuable resources," Jawad told an attentive Memorial Chapel audience in early March. "Offering programs to train teachers and professors at your university; creating partnerships between schools in Afghanistan and academic institutions in the United States; focusing study on Afghanistan in the classroom; conducting research on Afghanistan's education, security, and economic development; funding scholarships; waiving tuition for Afghan students; holding forums of exchange -- these are all ways to assist."

Jawad and Ashraf Ghani, chancellor of Kabul University, discussed these ideas and talked about the plight of their homeland at a three-day conference at Colgate, "Education and Development: Building Sustainable Systems of Higher Education in Developing Countries." They were joined by Mike Smith '70, an attorney who helped create Afghanistan's new employment and labor code; Derek Keats, executive director of information and communication services at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa; Colgate's Rebecca S. Chopp, president, and Lyle Roelofs, provost and dean of the faculty; and other prominent international educators in examining topics including the necessity for improved higher education worldwide.

Dialogue ranged from the technical to the idealistic, said computer science professor Alexander Nakhimovsky, who created and planned the conference and, working closely with Smith, obtained the grant from the Walter S. Mander Foundation that made the conference possible.

"There is a huge need for better higher education in many countries around the world," Nakhimovsky said. "Colgate and other American universities have a lot of expertise in this area. We have the capacity to help, but the challenge is finding how we can do so."

As Nakhimovsky knows, the university is making its own inroads in Afghanistan. Under his leadership, in April 2005 Colgate launched Project Afghanistan, which is working with a consortium of Afghan and Western colleges called eQuality Alliances to improve campus networking, faculty retraining, and curriculum development in Afghan schools. It also aims to help science and engineering education programs there transition to English as the language of instruction.

Since its founding, Project Afghanistan has redesigned the computer science curriculum at Kabul University, conducted workshops, and developed course materials for the new curriculum under a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In fact, when computer science students at Kabul University resumed classes in March, they began following the curriculum developed by Project Afghanistan.

"We used Colgate's educational philosophy to create the curriculum's course materials," said Nakhimovsky, who traveled to Kabul to work with colleagues at the University of Maryland and the University of the Western Cape in South Africa. "Every computer science class, for example, will have lab and service-learning components that allow students to apply what they have learned in the classroom."

Nakhimovsky first recognized the need for Project Afghanistan when Smith, who had recently returned to the United States after a trip there, introduced him to Chancellor Ghani. During their conversation, Smith and Ghani impressed upon Nakhimovsky how much work was necessary to rebuild Afghanistan -- particularly the nation's infrastructure and educational system. "The country is in enormous need of trained IT (information technology) professionals," Nakhimovsky explained. "You can't run a government, a school, or a business without IT."

Jenkins is associate director of media relations at Colgate
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