Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dispatch From Afghanistan | Rays of Hope

Zaher Wahab | Kabul | 11 June 2011

The role of education and Afghan strategies to strengthen institutions that support that right is a critical challenge: one that enjoys enormous popular support across the country.

Zaher Wahab, an Afghan professor who teaches at Lewis and Clark College in Portland spends four months each year working in Kabul.

This is the final dispatch for this year

Hope Against Hopelessness

Afghanistan evokes a litany of negatives in one’s mind such as: endless wars, brutal occupations, corruption, drugs, failed-state, fragile-state, narco-state, mafiocracy, crime syndicates, Blackwater, Drones, Predators, F16s, Human Terrain Teams, Female Engagement Teams, NGO’s, waste, fraud Chinook helicopters, psychological warfare, special operations forcer, night-raids, collateral damage, anguish ,treason, betrayals, Paetreaus, Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bagram, black holes, ,extreme poverty, child abuse, improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers, Taliban, NATO, crime and criminality, disaster capitalism, war profiteers, nepotism, the oppression of women, child labor, kill teams, white phosphorous, injustice, impunity, cultural invasion, deadly pollution, depleted uranium, traffic jams, amputees, countless beggars, child workers, economic invasion, child marriage, high suicide among young women, sectarianism, foreign subversion, lies, deception, and more.

Ray of Hope

But, here and there, there are signs of hope. For the last five years, I have been teaching in a master’s degree faculty development program designed to upgrade the knowledge, pedagogic skills, and professional dispositions of teacher education instructors from Afghanistan’s 18 four –year teacher training colleges. The program is funded by the US Agency for International Development, and implemented by the University of Massachusetts. The program is competitive and selective, and it maintains fairly high academic-professional standards. Each cohort consists of 11 men and 11 women, ages 24-43, representing the diversity in the country. We have graduated two cohorts thus far, and are currently working with two groups. Naturally, people come from different backgrounds, having amazing, diverse and/or tragic histories. Some have never been to the capital Kabul. Most have not touched a computer, and have never been on a plane. Some encounter academic difficulties. Many of the women have never sat next to a strange man, or spoken to one. Travel throught the country is fraught with danger. All are caught in Afghanistan’s endless civil, ethnic, sectarian, urban-rural, and/or imperialist wars and turmoil. Several have been touched by the country’s 35-year turmoil directly. All have been traumatized in one way or other. Most have families who must survive on $300 per month. Group members initially harbor fear, anxiety, uncertainty, suspicion, rivalries and distrust about each other. They feel overwhelmed, hopeless and angry about the condition of their wretched country.

But I have been amazed at the personal-professional progress, change and even transformation, among the participants. By the end of the four–semester program, they cooperate, help, respect, trust, like, and seek each other in academic-professional-personal matters. They overcome their fear, stereotypes, prejudices, distrust, sectarianism and identity politics. They begin to coalesce as a professional group and as one people, and talk about the country, the nation and their common humanity. Hardly anyone is ever late or absent; they do not take breaks; and they never whine about the academic rigor or the heavy work-load.They work very hard. By the end of the program, they develop excellent academic-intellectual skills. And they develop professional identities, and a sense of the teaching profession and its educational, sociopolitical, economic, cultural, and ethical role and responsibility toward their students and the ravaged country.

They are angry and impatient at the catastrophic conditions of the war-torn country, and they are determined to struggle for change, starting with education and the teaching profession. Group three has started to organize a professional network of all the program participants and graduates, with the intent of establishing an association in the future. The fourth group just developed the following code of conduct for all teachers and professors in Afghanistan.

These men and women are energized, motivated, inspired, empowered, and committed to work for educational-social change. The network idea and this code of ethics* are a start. The total cost of putting one cohort through the program is probably one million dollars, equal to keeping one American soldier for a year in Afghanistan.

Think about it!

*Professional Code of Ethics for University Professors

Commitment to the profession
Honesty in fulfilling one’s duties
Accepting responsibility
Upholding ethical principles
Free of prejudices and discrimination
Practicing social justice
Diligence in work
Learning from experienced professional mentors
Being trustworthy and virtuous
Striving for self- development and the students growth
Being insightful and perceptive
Receptive to feedback and criticism
Possessing the necessary skills to utilize current technology
Belief in and practicing Islam, valuing religious precepts
Respect for human dignity
Preserving one’s academic – intellectual freedom
Being warm, friendly and congenial
Taking care of and preserving one’s intellectual property
Cooperation with fellow colleagues and the administration
Strict observance of ethical code in conducting research
Respecting /observing individual differences in all of our Professional activities
Cultivating /Fostering ethics/ and morality in our students/ Observing complete impartiality in dealing with students: Doing our best for the preservation of a healthy environment
Preserving our national and professional identity
Understanding, respecting, accepting and tolerating each other
Respect for human and animal lights and the rights of nature
Being an informed, active, responsible and good citizen
Selflessness and self-sacrifice
Free from any and all addiction
Not exploiting others in any way, or wheeling and dealing
Respecting other points of view
Having moral – civic courage
Having self-confidence
Modesty, humility and tolerance
Having a vision and hope
Respecting students as human beings
Delivering the agreed upon curriculum as best as possible
Taking into account individual differences among Students based on gender, race, religion, culture, Language, geography, and class
Being fair and just in grading, advising, counseling, calling on students, and leading discussions
Maintaining strict confidentiality regarding grades and other student- related matters
Not taking sides in discussions among students
Not giving into nepotism or any pressure in grading students and other matters
Strict voidance of any form of sexual harassment and/or exploitation of students
Maintaining strict academic – intellectual honesty and integrity in research and scholarship

Additional Resource:
Running on Empty: International Education Gets Deep Cuts

Although education reform is a hallmark of the Obama presidency, we have just witnessed the largest cuts ever to the US Department of Education’s international education programs. In 2009, Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, announced Race to the Top. A $4.3 billion program, it is one of the largest and most expensive education programs in US history. A central goal of Race to the Top is to “prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy.” Apparently, study abroad and foreign language training isn’t deemed essential for such preparation. In recent days, stunned students and faculty across American universities learned that some of the most cherished international education programs will receive zero funding in FY 2011; others will be greatly diminished by huge budget cuts. The culprit isn’t just Congress, but the Obama administration itself.”

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