Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Greatness at the roof of the world

I am going to begin this with a disclaimer as to format. I am writing this off line as i don't have enough juice or modem power to do it on line. Thus what you are about to read may be a bit bolixed up as I am uploading plain text. I can't stay on line long enough to actually compose. So what follows is an experiment.

Khorog sits at around 2000 meters maybe more , in a narrow valley that is squished between two mountain ranges one of them being the Pamirs. A river runs down the valley and on one side of the river is Tajikistan and on the other side is Afghanistan. Flying is an opportunity to see some of the most beautiful and wild places left on the planet. There is usually only one flight a day and then only when the weather is perfectly clear as visibility is essential. The plane is a little prop that holds around twenty people and I imagine most of the navigation is done by sight.

We were incredibly lucky as today was perfect to fly to “the roof of the world”. There was not a cloud in the sky and almost no wind so we just puddled along. The landscape changes rapidly from dry but reasonably fertile fields to windswept scree. Then as we swoop into the next valley the huge glacier lakes appear. The color is somewhere between jade and turquoise depending on the light and there is not a tree or blade of grass to be seen. I think they must be almost inaccessible as the mountains around them look like a fortress and there didn’t seem to be so much as a goat path. The lakes then give way to the Pamirs, covered with snow. At one point in the journey I couldn’t decide which side of the plane was the best. The Tajik side which had a stunning view of razor sharp desolate peaks or the Afghan side where I had to look up and out the window to see the last bit of glacier above the plane thus the camera shot is up, not sideways, or down.

The agenda for the day was to visit with the IPD ( Institute of professional development) which is state funded with additionall support by the Aga Khan foundation. The IPD is an interesting organization as it serves schools in one of the most remote regions of Central Asia. Most of the high mountain schools and all of the schools along the Afghan Tajik border are under their wing. The distances are vast, the conditions harsh, resources are limited and yet the IPD has astounding success.

They developed a cascade model that clusters schools in groups and approach professional development AKA educational reform from all possible angles. It is essentially a community model that smacks a bit of PDS (Professional Development Schools) and Professional Learning Communities. IPD has strong partnerships with the ministry of education, deputy directors, the local teacher training institutions. Their approach is essentially, supporting and involving teachers, parents, and students in a wholeistic school reform. IPD has a realistic handle on what is and is not going to work given where they are. The corner stone of their program which is funded through AKF is the monitoring and evaluation piece. They have systematically collected data and run precise pilot and research projects on practically every aspect of their program.

One small example, IPD created a zero year class for children whose language is not Tajik but rather a very unusual dialect. The rational behind the zero year is to give non-tajik children a chance to adjust to going to a Tajik school. Rather than just setting the class up, IPD ran a pilot, conferred with parents of the children, collected data, made some significant adjustments and then introduced a few classes at a time.

After a presentation by the IPD staff we were treated to two school visits both of which included a chance to talk to parents. They are very involved and commented on how much they liked being able to be part of the school as this was not the case in Soviet Times. The second school visit included a presentation by the student council. As part of their school reform program students in schools create a student council that mirrors the government. The unique aspect of this idea is that the students actually have some real clout. Students are encouraged to create new programs and solve community problems. Parents are equally empowered and involved. It is important to keep in mind that Tajikistan emerged from the Soviet Era to a bloody and debilitating civil war that left the country in shambles. Thus the achievements of the IPD are even more remarkable.

They have introduced teacher resource centers, book publishing projects, health awareness and a mentoring program that practically defies description. (This is only a partial list) Their offices are in a semi-renovated school that could use a really good heating system. On one bulletin board is a series of photos of the young people who have come through their office as part of the program staff and a where are they now blurb. It reads like a whose who of bright young people from some of the smallest and most remote villages in a country that defines small and remote. They are now part of bigger AID programs, running NGO’s, attending major universities all over the world. As the director said “ they always run away just when we get them trained” and he laughed. I keep struggling with the "key to success' factor. What is making these programs so successful? Of course the sub-text is why can't we do the same?

Tomorrow we are going to visit a school that is one of the last along the Tajik Afghan border. It is about as far away from anywhere as you can get and will be very close to where Motensen wrote his new book Stones into Schools. My students are reading it and i am really looking forward to sending them the "real deal' photos. For now though there are at least 20 more cups of tea to drink and notes to write.

1 comment:

  1. This description of IPD reminds me of the Reggio-Emilia approach in early childhood education. I think there are enclaves of people making this kind of education happen in the US. I think the key is that it requires the will to make it happen. There isn't a reason why US schools can't do these things.