Staff Development Results in Better Teaching Methods at Balkh University

October 28, 2013

  • Teaching staff at Balkh University, who have been given opportunities for further education abroad, are finding innovative ways to teach their students.
  • They were part of the World Bank and the ARTF’s Strengthening Higher Education Program, which aimed to restore basic operational performance at 12 core universities in Afghanistan.
  • The program also provided technical equipment, which allows faculty and students alike to access technology to better connect with the world.

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.”

" The best way to rebuild our country is through education. If our teachers and students can join the globalization of knowledge then this is good for us. "

Mokamel Alkozai

Chancellor, Balkh University

Access to technology

SHEP had also provided an extensive array of technical equipment, including some 100 computers, printers, projectors, photocopiers, and classroom white boards to help Balkh University better connect with the world, says Alkozai.

“As you know, the world, as a result of technology, is becoming a village and it’s essential that our teachers and students can share and have access to it.”

Associate Professor Mohammad Shah says he regularly encourages his English students to conduct research online. “Of course, they can find everything on the internet. It opens so many doors to the outside world for them,” says Shah, who also completed his Master’s degree with SHEP funding in Turkey in 2010.

“It was the first time that I went outside Afghanistan to study, and I realized how we could do so many things better,” he says. “Not only were foreign teaching methods different and the facilities so good, but we also learned about other cultures. Without this contact with the outside world, we cannot reach higher peaks of knowledge.”

SHEP also encouraged the creation of student shuras or councils. At Balkh University, the student services department recruited a representative from each of the 13 faculties and they now meet regularly to solve issues or conflicts.

“We discuss what problems students have and work to find solutions,” explains Wajida Azizi, 22, representing the political science faculty. Recently, the council discussed the need for sporting activities on campus to discourage students from smoking. Conflict in women’s dorms is another common topic, as is the need for a program to help students who don’t speak Dari.

“Now, our problem is finding a budget to make these changes,” says Azizi. “The university can’t afford it yet, so we must work together and see what we can do.”

Forward looking:

The World Bank team is working closely with the Ministry of Higher Education and the universities on preparing the next phase of support for higher education. A preparation grant of $4.9 million was approved by the ARTF Management Committee in June 2013.

Key Higher Education Results

  • Student enrollment increased from 8,000 in 2001 to over 100,000 by 2012 in public universities and institutes of higher education.
  • Girls’ enrollment has increased from zero in 2001 to some 19,000 in public universities and institutes of higher education by 2012 (comprising 19% of the total).
  • Female faculty numbers stood at zero in 2001 and increased to 16% of the total faculty number (3,230) by 2012.
  • More than 65 private institutes of higher education were established, with nearly 50,000 students enrolled, licensed under the Ministry of Higher Education by 2012.
  • Curriculums have been developed and revisedat the national level across public universities and institutes of higher education.
  • A Quality Assurance Department was established in the Ministry and Quality Assurance Cells in more than 12 universities.
  • The National Higher Education Strategic Plan (NHESP 2010–2014) was launched.
  • The Gender Strategy (2012–2014) was launched  
  • The National Entrance Examination (Kankor) was reformed