ErasingBorders
A People's Movement for Peace and
Security in the Af-Pak-India Region

 

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ERASING BORDERS

A People’s Movement to Promote Sustainable Peace & Security in the Af-Pak-India Region  

 

The New Silk Road Generation

The Higher Education e-Mentoring Program for Afghanistan

For centuries, Afghanistan played a pivotal role in the Central Asian trade route, commonly known as “The Silk Road”. Traders travelled on this route enriched the oasis settlements of Central Asia, including a number of cities in Afghanistan. These merchants traded not only in precious commodities, but also brought new ideas, new religious thoughts, and new cultures,silently promoting a new narrative for nation-building through trade. Today, Afghanistan is still in the process of this continuing evolution.

 

After thirty devastating years of war, foreign occupation and political instability, Afghanistan is now trying to rebuild itself. Currently, the country has a positive demographic dividend over 60% of the country’s population is under the age of 20 and 50% is under 25 years of age. These young people are the foundation on which to build Afghanistan’s future. Given the opportunity of education, especially higher education, this young generation will become the new leaders, pathfinders and explorers in the areas of economic, social and political development, and provide future leadership to Afghanistan’s nation-building efforts.

 

According to a UNICEF report,Education is perhaps the most important tool for human development and the eradication of poverty. It is the means by which successive generations develop the values, knowledge and skills for their personal health and safety and for future political, economic, social and cultural development.[1] Recognizing this, the current government of Afghanistan identified higher education as a national priority and declared it as “one of the eight pillars of Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy 2008-2014”.[2]

Afghanistan has 19 public sector universities and 8 other higher education institutions. Today, the enrollment in these institutions is estimated to be 76,000 students.[3] However, due to the past three decades of turmoil, progress in higher education in the country has been badly hampered. Today, higher education in Afghanistan “remains a fragile system with meager resources and uncertainty of funding (due to the ongoing war), feeble infrastructure (in adequacy of libraries, laboratories, electricity, and water), shortage of qualified teachers (63.8% of teachers have Bachelor degrees and only 33.7% have Masters degrees[4], unavailability of text books in local languages.[5]

According to Misbah Aduibaqui, the higher education system is further handicapped by the lack of understanding of the newly introduced “credit score” system and its management. In addition, the decision to use English as the medium of instruction in all universities by 2015 will further aggravate this already strained system. The primary, middle and high schools in the country do not have the capacity to prepare students for an English medium education. These handicaps will seriously affect students’ performance at the university level and challenge them from achieving their full potential as effective leaders of the country.

 

Higher Education Student e-Mentoring Program for Afghanistan

This paper outlines the Higher Education Student e-Mentoring Program for Afghanistan. It will afford university students the opportunity to achieve their academic and career potential within this challenging environment. As a pilot initiative, this program will initially focus on those fields of study and related skills that are necessary for nation-building and employment opportunities, such as the development of agriculture, infrastructure development, financial management, banking, natural resources management and communication and other skills necessary to promote a prosperous economy.[6]Other related courses will be added at the request of a participating university. Initially, this program will be introduced at two or three universities in the departments of Math and Science, Engineering, Commerce/Business and Agriculture.

The program provides one-on-one tutoring support to help improve student performance and offers personalized learning opportunities that may not be available within the existing educational system. With the application of modern communication technologies, mentoring can be accomplished through on-line communication systems, such as Skype, e-mail, social media and telephone.

Specifically, this program would provide one-on-one coaching in four areas:

·     Academic Course Selection: Assistance in the selection of academic courses that will enhance marketable employment skills, such as computer technology, English or other languages, Management, Financial Management, Banking, Engineering, Math and Science, Agriculture, and Transportation.

·     Supplemental Classroom Instruction: Tutoring to help with homework, understand subject matter and prepare for final examinations for successful results.

·     Job-Related Marketable Skills: Helps student with career planning.Counseling in the development of marketable skills, such as leadership, networking, problem solving, conflict resolution, consensus building, entrepreneurial and interpersonal skills.

·     Job-Search Skills: Counseling in resume preparation, interviewing techniques, and initiating job contacts; and offering of professional contactsfor job opportunities within and outside the region.

Mentors

The Mentors will be active or retired faculty members, teachers, business leaders or other university/college students, who have demonstrated a willingness to volunteer their time.  Mentors would come from within the region or anywhere in the world, and would have an understanding and respect for Afghanistan’s culture, its religions and its ethnic diversity.  The mentors must be able to make a commitment for a minimum of one year, subject to renewal, and a commitment to spend, at least, a minimum of one hour per week with a studnet. They will also be expected to engage the students in a positive relationship, listening well without being judgmental and be responsive to inquiries and concerns. They must respect the confidentiality of the students they mentor and must refrain from making public statements about a particular student or university. 

Mentors would be required to submit a comprehensive application form along with their detailed resume and a minimum of three references. Each applicant will be interviewed via phone or Skype, and references will be checked. The Mentors are expected to have a college degree and work experience in a given area of expertise. They should serve as a positive role model, show leadership and possess effective communication skills on a level that the young people in a foreign country can understand. It is important that the Mentors not have a criminal record.

Mentors will receive both an orientation and ongoing training during their mentoring assignment. The training topics will include program rules, mentors’ goals and expectations, mentors’ obligations and appropriate roles, mentoring relationship development and maintenance, ethical issues, effective closure of the mentoring relationship and sources of assistance available to support mentors. Also covered in the training will be the opportunities and challenges associated with mentoring Afghan student populations, such as their ethnic and cultural diversities, foreign language limitations, and different economic strata.

Erasing Borders has an extensive membership of professionals from the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India diaspora.  From this group, qualified volunteer mentors can be recruited, who have the understanding and respect for Afghanistan’s culture and diversity and can communicate in a mutually understandable language.

Feasibility of e-Mentoring

Mentors will communicate with their assigned students through the internet, phone, Skype, e-mail and/or other social media on a regular basis. Such e-mentoring is possible, as Afghanistan has a reasonable level of telephone and internet penetration among its population. According to the latest statistics and forecast for 2011-2012, 65% of the country’s population has cell phones and 5.7% households have fixed-line services. These services are growing at an annual rate of 14% and 0.8% respectively. In addition, 4.5% of the country’s households have internet connections, which are growing at an annual rate of 15%.[7] Almost all universities have computer laboratories for the benefit of the students. Further, it is projected that by 2015 all telecommunications services will be provided via satellite. This new development will further reduce the cost of these services, making them more accessible.

E-mentoring is becoming increasingly popular form of mentoring, as it connects busy professionals with students regardless of geographic distances. Some prominent e-mentoring programs are Infinite Family, a program that links hundreds of South African children with mentors from all over the world; International Telementoring (www.telementoring.org), which matches industry professionals with students; and MentorNet (www.mentornet.org), an industrial mentoring network for women students majoring in engineering, related sciences, mathematics and technologies.

Program Management and Supervision

Erasing Borders, a non-profit, non-political global organization of the Afghanistan, Pakistan and India diaspora committed to promote sustainable peace and security in South Asia, will facilitate the overall management and supervision of the program. Erasing Borders role will include organizing an Advisory Board, developing program standards, coordinating with Faculty Program Coordinators at participating Afghan universities and hiring a Program Manager. To help manage the program, Erasing Borders will invest in a mentoring management computer software program that is available in the marketplace. In addition, MentorCloud, a mentor networking platform created by a Silicon-valley entrepreneur, has offered their collaboration by offering free access to their network platform to facilitate communication among and between mentors and mentees and create their own interest-based communities.  If resources are available, management of this program will be outsourced to an existing organization with experience in managing international student mentoring programs.

This program will have three levels of oversight: an Advisory Board, a Program Manager and Faculty Program Coordinators at each participating university in Afghanistan.

The Advisory Boardconsists of three to five members from the academic, business and non-profit field, preferably with experience in active mentoring programs. The Board is a policy group, which will provide guidance to set program standards, mentor selection and evaluation, and program assessment.

The Program Managerwill be responsible for maintaining program standards, coordinating program operations, conducting program evaluation, and recruiting and supporting the Advisory Board members. Operational responsibilities will include mentor selection and training, pairing of mentors with the selected students, on-going communication with mentors, problem-solving and networking with other mentoring programs. The Program Manager will develop the tools necessary to manage the e-mentoring program, including software applications.

Faculty Program Coordinators will be a faculty members selected and appointed by each participating Afghan university. These Coordinators should have good professional credentials and have a good standing in the university community. These Coordinators will be responsible for the selection of students to be mentored, for providing student orientation and ongoing support and guidance, and for programmatic troubleshooting.

Program assessment and measurement of success

At the end of each academic year, the program will be evaluated, and based on lessons learned necessary improvements will be incorporated into the program content and direction. Regular assessments will also be conducted to ensure that student needs and curriculum requirements are being met. If this Pilot initiative is successful for a period of 3 consecutive years, this program will be introduced to other higher education institutions in Afghanistan.

In evaluating the program, every effort will be made to answer the basic questions: Is the program achieving its stated goal(s)?  Did the program recruit appropriate students and mentors?  Did Mentors interact with students as planned?  What has changed for each student and for the students as a whole, as a result of the mentoring program?

To answer these questions, an outcome measurement strategy will be developed. It will examine the experiences of students and their Mentors, and assess how useful the mentoring was to the students’ academic performance and career search. Key indicators to be reviewed will include the average completed length of the mentoring relationship, the average frequency of interaction between the Mentor and student, the types of mentoring provided and the responses and participation of the students in the tutoring interaction.   

Rebuilding Afghanistan

The Higher Education Student e-Mentoring Program proposed in this paper is based on the simple premise that the power to transform and rebuild a nation lies in the education of its people, especially the emerging youth. With quality education, Afghanistan’s young generation can effectively promote the businesses, services, infrastructure and institutions necessary to transform the country as a center of trade and economic progress as it was in the glory days of the Silk Road. This program is specifically designed to achieve that goal.

 

 


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[1] The Role of Education in Peace Building: A Report by UNICEF, May 2011

[2] National Higher Education Strategic Plan 2012-2014, Afghanistan Ministry of Higher Education

[3] Afghan Education Peace Foundation (AEPF), www.educationandpeace.org, “Why This Matters”, pg 1

[4] NHESP, pg 9

[5] Higher Education in Afghanistan, Misbah Aduibaqui, Policy Perspective, Vol 6: 2, July-Dec 2009, www.ips.orgs

[6] Afghanistan: Rebuilding an Education Starved Country, Wagdy Sawahel, April 2009, www.universityworldnews.com

[7] Afghanistan: Key Telecom Parameters 2011-2012, Telecom, Mobile, Internet and Forecasts, www.budde.com.au

 

 

 

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