Afghanistan: Transforming a “13th Century Curriculum into a 21st Century Curriculum”

Feb 5, 2007 by



by Jimmy Kilpatrick

Senior International Policy Advisor Haberman International Policy Institute in Education hipie

February 5, 2007

Americans are not alone in trying to reform an inadequate public school curriculum. Most other countries are pursuing a similar goal.This is especially the case with one of the most war-torn, conflict-ridden countries in the world—Afghanistan. Not only is the current government struggling to achieve a peaceful resolution of its internal strife and strengthen the country’s newly formed democratic infrastructure, it is also engaged in the ambitious task of transforming, as one Afghan educator put it, a 13th century curriculum into a 21st century one. Given the country’s geo-strategic position and political importance today, the current government’s educational efforts warrant more public attention as well as financial support.

The task of modernizing the country’s entire secondary curriculum began in earnest in August and September of 2006 with the development in Kabul of a new Secondary Curriculum Framework.It then continued in November and December. Forty content specialists from the Afghanistan Ministry of Education spent 30 days in Amman, Jordan, working with content specialists from some of Jordan’s universities as well as with several independent consultants from the United States and Australia to update and rethink every major learning area in grade 7 to grade 12. The project was directed by the UNESCO International Bureau of Education (IBE-Geneva) in collaboration with UNESCO’s Afghanistan Office and the Afghanistan Ministry of Education. The entire project was funded by a sizeable U.S. contribution to UNESCO specifically for education reconstruction in post-conflict/conflict-affected societies.

The accomplishments of one month’s work were formidable, despite daily difficulties in working back and forth among four languages—Dari, Pashto, English, and Arabic. The Afghan educators created new and up-to-date course outlines for their country’s two official languages (Dari and Pashto) as first languages for native speakers and as required second languages for non-native speakers. They extended from grade 7 to grade 12 the recent introduction of English as another required second language in grades 4, 5, and 6. They also prepared updated course outlines in mathematics, the sciences, history, geography, civic education, Islamic education, Afghan arts and culture, and technology for grade 7 to grade 12 and in Arabic as a second language for grades 7, 8, and 9.

This giant step forward must now pass the next major hurdle—the translation of these documents into high quality textbooks to replace those now in use, some of whose original editions go back many decades. The currently used biology textbook, for example, contains nothing on DNA and modern developments in genetics.Currently used language textbooks contain little by modern Afghan writers, many of whom have been living in exile for years. Their writings alone constitute a rich source of literary and informational reading selections to incorporate into new textbooks.

The development and implementation of new textbooks in every learning area and at every grade from 7 to 12 would be a staggering task in even a well-developed country at peace with itself and its neighbors. It is more so in an embattled fledgling democracy with a scant education budget and a shortage of school buildings, accessible schools, school administrators, trained teachers, and teacher training institutions. In addition, the government’s range of attention must of necessity include the many Islamic schools with a narrow religious curriculum, the paucity of opportunities for vocational education, the low level of literacy in much of the adult population, and the low attendance rate by girls whose parents fear for their safety in sending them to school. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Education wants all boys and girls going to school and studying the same curriculum, and it is trying to move ahead as fast as it can with the next stages of this project because it knows what the stakes are.

Among the key themes running through the six new language curricula are several worth highlighting. The Ministry wants its country’s new secondary curriculum to instill a strong desire among Afghan teen-agers for national unity, peaceful ways to live with each other, and national independence. In grade after grade, its educational specialists have made room for reading selections on these particular topics, with the value of tolerance explicitly stressed year after year. They are clearly aware that if the various groups of people who live within their country’s borders are to achieve national unity and live in peace with each other, their children must learn to respect differences in home language and ethnic perspectives, as well as religious beliefs and practices. The spirit driving their new secondary course outlines and the pace of reform they are pursuing not only deserve Americans’ attention and support, they also warrant emulation by most of Afghanistan’s geographical neighbors.

The Haberman International Policy Institute in Education hipie is devoted to extending the mission of; improving the educational opportunities for children and youth in poverty to schools and preparatory institutions internationally.

Watch for a major hipie annoucement coming soon on the UNESCO International Bureau of Education (IBE-Geneva) Afghanistan Education Reconstruction Project.

via Afghanistan: Transforming a “13th Century Curriculum into a 21st Century Curriculum”.

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