Sunday, September 26, 2010

After the fact

In an effort to catch up, this post will be a reflection on the last couple of day - a visit to the Aga Khan Lycee and the trip back to Dushanbe by car.

The Lycee is a model school in Khorog support through AKf (Aga Khan foundation). It is open to anyone to apply and if a promising student's family can not afford to support him or her there is scholarship money available. The curriculum operates in three languages or mediums. The medium is selected in grade one thus students in the English medium are taught entirely in English, the other two choices are Tajik and Russian. All students are expected to take another language outside of their medium and often you find students who are tri-linqual.

The school is exemplary in every way from the director who is also overseeing the school in Osh to the teachers, students and support staff. There is a real desire to model not only exemplary teaching but the offer models of sustainability and creative resource use. For example on the school tour we stopped at a small viewing auditorium that was built entirely out of the wood of old desks. Teachers are expected to continue their educations and many of them have masters degrees. The director spends his summer at Sussex university working on his Ph.D.

Student success from the school is high as one might expect. 50% of students have received scholarship support to study abroad, many are attending universities in the US and Europe for advanced degrees. It would be easy to write this kind of success off to resources and family background. However there are many students from "poor families" and although there are resources available it is not over the top. I would venture to say that some of the common place single budget lines in our schools and universities would fund this lycee for several years. Once again, the key seems to be a shared vision across the board, clear strategic plan, careful research that informs choices, sustained support and a philosophy that is financially moderate as well as wise.

The school itself was a really lovely place to spend time. They began with an old soviet style building and with some creative and interesting renovations transformed it into simply a nice school. The windows were in good shape, there was plenty of light and the heating system was up to date. As always, I was struck by the straight forwardness of this process. Renovate the things that count and leave the rest well enough alone so resources can go to student achievements and faculty and staff development. The lycee was just another example of the kind of educational success story that we had witnessed elsewhere at the roof of the world.

The drive back to Dushanbe by car was in a word epic. The one hour flight out translates into an almost 16 hour bone crushing drive back. Two of us elected to do this just to see what it was like . The take home message is perhaps "but for the grace of a river ". 12 of the 16 hours of this drive is along, again, the Afghan boarder. The road is of course a disaster except the few places where the Chinese decided to send in a crew of prisoners to fix it or the other few places where there are road crews from Iran. However it is still a road. The other side of the river which is Afghanistan is a foot path for the same number of kilometers. There are places where foot bridges span the gorges that on the Tajik side have bridges. It was virtually impossible to pick out schools even though we were in some places only yards apart. On the Tajik side schools are everywhere and obvious. When we could see people going about their daily chores the women were in traditional covered dress including those doing the laundry in the river. The men were dressed in the equivalent traditional gear. The Tajik side, again completely different. The reason is the river. It is sufficiently deep, cold and dangerous that the two countries have been held apart. The influence of the Soviets lingers on the Tajik side with infrastructure and education. Isolation and circumstance has held the Afghan side precisely where it was 100 or more years ago.

We arrived back at this marvelous garden oasis about midnight. Our friends appeared with hot tea and warm bread. My appreciation for this small paradise deepened, yet the Pamirs lingered in all of us. Vivid images and unanswered questions will take many more weeks and months to sort out.

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