Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh Province – The day Professor Farida Ansari compared Afghan music to the lilting sound of old English poetry, she discovered an innovative way of enticing her students.
For several years, Ansari, 36, had been part of the English faculty at Balkh University in Afghanistan’s northern Balkh province but she always struggled to relay her passion for English poets like Coleridge and Wordsworth, or the intricate ancient language of Shakespearean plays and poems like Beowulf.
“My students always wanted to skip poetry studies. It seemed too complex and difficult for them, but when I finally learned how to make it enjoyable and understandable, it became their favorite subject,” recalls Ansari.
“Of course, our Afghan singers are famous for their beautiful lyrics, so when we started to compare their work to the old English masters, my students came alive.” Ansari’s recent teaching breakthrough occurred after she completed her Master’s studies at a Turkish university, with funding from the Strengthening Higher Education Program (SHEP), financed by the World Bank and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF).
Started in 2005 and closed in June 2013, SHEP’s objective was to progressively restore basic operational performance at a group of core universities in Afghanistan. SHEP began with a grant of $40 million, and originally supported six universities (Kabul, Balkh, Herat, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Kabul Polytechnic), mainly in physical infrastructure and improvement of staff development, curriculum and equipment. With additional funding in 2010, six more universities were added (Bamyan, Khost, Takhar, Jawzjan, Al-Beroni and Kabul Education University).
With SHEP funding at Balkh University, Ansari is one of about 20 professors who have now completed their Master’s degrees and PhDs at universities in Turkey, Thailand, United Kingdom, or the United States.
Staff development and quality assurance of teachers, who also attend professional development seminars and conferences overseas, has been an important part of SHEP, says Balkh University Chancellor Associate Professor Mokamel Alkozai.
“The best way to rebuild our country is through education,” says Alkozai. “If our teachers and students can join the globalization of knowledge then this is good for us. If we can’t, I have the feeling war will remain.”