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Computer Skills Training in Northern Afghanistan is Revitalizing Schools

In northern Afghanistan most schools don’t have computers. Teachers and administrators must keep track of grades, attendance, and lessons by hand. It’s not always lack of access to computers that’s holding these teachers back, but a lack of computer skills training and understanding of this new technology that keeps them isolated.

CAI’s in-country partner, Marcopolo Social Services and Reconstruction Organization (MSSRO), is trying to remedy this with a capacity building program that gives teachers and school administrators the skills to operate computers and use software to organize, connect, and keep track of progress. These computer skills trainings take place at the Baharak Learning Center in the northern Badakhshan region of Afghanistan.

This year’s Journey of Hope magazine – CAI’s yearly publication featuring long-form stories from the areas we work, updates on programs and progress, and a peek into the lives of extraordinary people – dives deep into the computer skills training program and the teachers-turned-students who are learning how to use technology in the classroom. You can read the story and others here.

In late October students from the most recent course graduated with new knowledge they can take back to their students and co-workers. MSSRO Director Janagha Jaheed traveled to Baharak to celebrate this success and welcome the next crop of eager students.

The Newest Computer Skills Training Graduates

The October graduation ceremony honored 600 students, teachers, and administrators who completed either a three-month or six-month computer skills training course. As they walked across the stage to accept their certificates, they marked a transition for their isolated schools. With their new knowledge of computers and the Internet, they have the ability to connect to the rest of the world. This is an incredible step forward for their communities.

As part of the capacity-building program, each school with a staff member in attendance received new computers and supplies to ensure this knowledge is passed on. Janagha was happy to report that 35 schools are now equipped with tools like computers and printers, and some schools received solar panels, though due to budget constraints not all schools could be outfitted with the panels.

MSSRO hopes to reach every school in Badakhshan, to ensure every administration can connect with each other online and every teacher has the ability to use computers not only to keep track of grades and attendance, but also to use in the classroom to teach students. These latest graduates will have an incredible impact on their schools, and the lives of students in some of the most remote areas.

Graduates with Big Dreams

Most of the recent graduates from the computer skills training program are from Baharak and nearby Shuhada District. The Baharak Learning Center (BLC) is close enough to their homes they can easily travel to classes.

Some teachers are living in Baharak after escaping Wurduj district when the Taliban took over a few years ago. These displaced people find purpose and hope in the BLC capacity-building classes.

“While they were displaced, they could go to English and computer classes,” says Janagha, who oversees the BLC. “They were asking us to continue these programs at least for the students replaced from Wurduj.”

The recent graduates were incredibly proud of their accomplishments and excited about the opportunities they have in the future. Teacher Maulawi Sinadeenze told Janagha the program had changed his life.

“I am totally different. At the beginning of the class I thought I wouldn’t learn anything because I am old. After a while I see I have changed. I have [learned] good things and skills. I am also able to make slides and seminars and workshops. I can visualize that with powerpoint.  This is very useful for the teaching of some subjects to the students as well,” he said.

Computer skills training program

MSSRO manager Janagha Jaheed makes remarks at the graduation ceremony.

Janagha spoke to many graduates who wanted more opportunity to take classes at the learning center. They were sad to learn that BLC classes will most likely be moving to Faizabad, the capital city of Badakhshan. Faizabad is less susceptible to attack from Taliban, and MSSRO must consider the safety of the students and teachers.

“The teachers and students were happy to receive their certificates, but they were sad that it was the last time the program was [held in Baharak]. They wanted to continue classes and they want more opportunity for continuing education,” said Janagha.

These are reminders of the careful balancing act these programs maintain between ensuring people have access to education and keeping them safe from threats of violence. The climate can change fast and operations are always being reconsidered. These students will be welcomed at any programs in Faizabad, but the distance might make it more difficult to attend classes. Scholarships can help ease this burden, but if the program moves, the demand may be more than MSSRO can afford.

Computer Training Skills are Far Reaching

Though the computer skills training courses have not been offered for long, the impact they are creating in the school districts is already making a difference. During the graduation festivities Janagha had the chance to talk with other teachers from Shuhada, where previous program graduates are already implementing the lessons they learned.

“In terms of education and admin it is different from three years ago. Most of the teachers can use computers, and the results sheets and attendance are computerized. Three years ago the teachers could not use the computer, but now they have the ability to write everything on the computers,” says Janagha.

Janagha’s ultimate vision is to train at least one teacher or administrator from every school in Badakhshan. He thinks with enough funding he can accomplish this goal in five years, but Badakhshan is a vast area and the operating conditions are constantly changing. Some areas, like Wurduj, are occupied by Taliban and others are so far removed that the logistics of educating teachers is complicated.

These setbacks don’t deter Janagha. He sees these capacity building programs as the next step to education. “NGOs should look at what the community really needs. One of those needs is to teach computers to the teachers,” he explains.

“They have the schools, then they equip the schools, and then they have capacity-building. It’s a cycle – at first students need school, then they need equipment, then they need the skills. These organizations are unique for this kind of work because they built the schools then they equip the schools and then they teach the teachers the skills.”

Capacity-building and vocational training programs make up a portion of the programs CAI supports in Afghanistan and Pakistan. By listening to the needs of the communities, CAI can help set up programs that teach skills like sewing, baking, tailoring, weaving, and other trades that will help people make a living. By giving them the tools they need to create a business or earn money, they have the ability to take care of themselves and their families.

These programs are vital to areas like Badakhshan. By providing skills and ensuring they have access to technology, it allows the community to develop independence, a thriving economy, and most of all hope for the future. To read more about the computer program and other vocational programs, download the latest copy of the Journey of Hope magazine or order a hard copy for yourself.