Monday, June 27, 2011


Yesterday was a day of culinary delights. There was an early morning plov (AKA rice-fest) for my colleague, which was a ceremony marking 40 days since the passing of a neighbor. It featured an array of goodies spread across the floor in typical Central Asian style. You sit around the food on thin pillows,eating with your fingers, with the prayers of the mullah for the deceased wafting in from the adjacent room.

From that very Un-American experience we transitioned to the kitchen of our house and a late breakfast of homemade pancakes and Vermont maple syrup. The pancakes were all made with fruits from the garden so we had apples and raspberries and in a nod to the international food importers, bananas from Ecuador. A huge stack of cakes found their way to the garden table along with homemade Vermont syrup. The combination of warm fruit and warm syrup was an instant hit. However explaining in Russian and Farsi how syrup is made taxed even the most linguistically nimble of the group.

Dinner was yet another adventure and we were treated to Shashlik the national dish. It is Kabob marinated and then grilled on an open fire, and we sampled two beef cuts and chicken. Our boss added in his signature salad, and in the end it was a day of truly delectable gluttony.

Friday, June 24, 2011

a matter of translation

Ideas like language in order to be understood, need translation. Our work, so far, has been an exercise in exactly that. What is a good idea in one context is not so in another. In the age of internet and instant communication, ideas are whizzing around the globe at an astonishing rate. Some ideas seem to stick and gain traction and others fall by the wayside. One such idea is outcomes based education.

In this part of the world, outcomes based education is in direct opposition to what has been the norm since Soviet times. The point of an education and the degree to which one had attained it, is measured by the accumulation of information as indicated by success on tests and in recitations. Clearly, education in Central Asia worked in Soviet Times by all indicators. Children were literate in two languages, teachers were well paid and had a yearly professional development trip to Moscow, there were textbooks in the farthest village schools and education was seen as a right rather than a privilege.

With the break up of the former Soviet Union,compounded by a global economy that rises and falls in a blink of an eye, the template that usually spelled success is no longer in place. Even if it was, in all probability, it would not be nimble enough to keep up with the rapid fire changes of the world. That has certainly been the case in our own country.

The new template, as yet untried, is outcomes based education that includes measurable evidences and indicators that are consistently understood across institutions. This push is a direct result of the Bologna agreement for European Universities. The hope is to make former CIS universities equally in-line and compatible.

In large measure, our task is to figure out a mechanism that supports outcomes based teacher education and makes it a transparent idea and easily understood by others. Teacher educators here have focused on inputs; recent efforts at reform have been exercises in reorganizing the ratio of class hours spent on different subjects. The challenge is get them paying relatively more attention to what their students are actually learning during those hours and how it's transferring into actions in student teaching.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The River

We spent most of yesterday in the cellar of the office as it is quiet and under a hundred degrees. Central Asia in June is hot. As we worked with our colleagues we began to develop a metaphor for educational change as that of crossing a river.

In general schools are like the river bank, comfortable, familar and for the most part reasonably safe, at least in terms of expectations and performance. The rub comes when the teachers and the very infrastructre is in need of change and teachers, administrators are required to cross the river to a new river bank on the other side. The key then becomes, what is required by those of us in the development community and educational support team to make the crossing a pleasurable wade instead of a swim for your life. We have ideas and do our work, but we are not the ones who cross the river. How do we make the river seem narrower, and the currents less threatening?

Thus as we work through our tasks out here, we keep returning to our metaphor as a barometer from which to judge how successful or not ideas will be at the implementation stage.

Monday, June 20, 2011

June in the Garden

Here we are again and I must say it is lovely to be back in the village. Our "home coming" was warm complete with a bowl of fresh cherries, hot tea, and "my office" set up under the tree in the garden. My colleague is an instant super star because he chats away in Farsi. Our bags are somewhere in Turkey which means we will be "professionally dressed" in our travel gear until they arrive which is in several days- only two flights a week. Colleague looks more like he's ready to go to the gym than to work. We have come with books for the school library, assorted clothes for kids and various professional books for our colleagues. Not to mention maple syrup and pancake mix which will be Sunday breakfast for as many of our village buddies as we can feed. The first question from our beloved host when he found out that our bags were missing was an audible groan.. oh no my syrup!

Our first big gig will be Friday and between now and then we need to work through an agenda, send out a survey, gather the data and figure out how to put it in spiffy graphs in two languages. Our hope is that this seminar will set the stage for our work forward.

On other fronts, the work from my FB in the fall has grown into seminars and materials development. Individuals who had never had a chance to share their ideas are now talking on a regular basis. The IPD team from the Pamirs is working more closely with the team in Dushanbe. So all in all the tiny seeds of October are flourishing.