KABUL CITY – There is complete silence in the room but the chirping of birds is audible through the open window. Deep brown wooden desks line the walls and a group of scholars are hard at work, burrowing through mounds of books and reams of printed articles, taking notes and highlighting references.
Ahmad Omid Afzali, an assistant professor, and his colleagues are at work in the Natural Science Studies department at the Academy of Science of Afghanistan (ASA). Until late 2016, Afzali was a lecturer at the Faculty of Engineering, Paytakht Private University in Kabul. “My research paper was published in an international journal,” he says, “I really like research and want to study more and discover new things,” Afzali was given the opportunity to do so when he was awarded a research grant under the Higher Education Development Project (HEDP) for his study evaluating the groundwater quantity and quality in the Kabul basin.
Research has been neglected in Afghanistan due to several years of war and unrest. “Unfortunately, decades of war have negatively impacted the culture of academic research,” says Hamidullah Sokout, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Computer and Informatics, Kabul Polytechnic University. There were no resources or support for conducting studies in spite of interest in research on specific topics, says Sokout. “A lot of projects were either not taken up or were just abandoned.”
Sokout was another grantee of the HEDP research awards in 2016 and published his paper, “E-Kankor: Opening New Vistas of Higher Education through an Innovative Intelligent Tutoring System”, internationally. Sokout, Afzali, and other scholars like them believe that academic research is an important indicator of a country’s development. “The key factor for most developed countries is academic research and it will help us too in Afghanistan,” says Afzali.
Designed to support the Ministry of Higher Education’s (MoHE) second National Higher Education Strategic Plan, 2015-2020, HEDP speaks directly to the needs of Afghanistan at this point in its development—the need for indigenous research and innovation to drive the country’s growth agenda forward. “We have enough educated people in Afghanistan and by conducting research we, too, can take part in the development of our country,” Afzali says.
Sokout and Afzali represent a growing tribe of researchers who want to focus on cutting-edge studies that will impact their disciplines as well as communities. Organizations such as ASA provide them with the facilities and space to do so, while projects like HEDP provide the resources.