Afghanistan: In-service training means teaching basic skills

A development worker trains teachers in Afghanistan

Christiane Althoff trains teachers in Afghanistan. 'It is impossible to attain rapid results in Afghanistan, particularly in the education sector. The destruction caused by 30 years of war cannot be rebuilt in just one year,' believes the experienced teacher. Work is slow and tedious; the problems to be solved are complex. 'But we are making progress, which is encouraging.'

Originally from Osterwieck in Germany, Christiane works as a development worker training teachers in Afghanistan. The curriculum includes subjects such as teaching methodology, maths and English. The 1,000 or so teachers she trains work at the 16 schools taking part in the German development cooperation Basic Education for Afghanistan programme in Mazar-e Sharif. The programme assists in building schools, improving materials and equipment and supporting teachers. The programme executing agencies are the Afghan Ministry of Education, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and KfW Development Bank.

One of Christiane Althoff 's first observations was that the standard of teaching in Afghanistan was alarmingly poor. There are many reasons for this, one being a lack of access to knowledge. 'Teachers only have the schoolbooks used by their class. They don't have any additional books of their own. There aren't even any public libraries where they can look things up,' she says. Internet connections are practically non-existent, and an unreliable electricity supply makes it difficult to access electronic media.

'Teaching standards have been completely stymied by more than 30 years of war,' the development worker says, explaining why teaching methods in Afghanistan have not moved with the times. 'Teachers still use the traditional 'frontal' teaching methods they grew up with. External influences, specialist literature and educational research have simply not infiltrated the Afghan system.’

In her seminars, the 35-year-old motivates students to improve the structure and effectiveness of their lessons. 'I focus on the basics,' she says. 'How can I structure a lesson? What classroom formats can I use? How can I encourage children to think for themselves rather than learn by rote?'

Teachers enjoy their in-service training. Despite their enthusiasm, however, progress is slow. 'A lot of patience is required; it is impossible to change an education system in just a few weeks. But we will get there, even if it is in small steps. As the Afghan proverb says: 'Drop by drop the river rises.'

Although Christiane Althoff has settled in well in her life in Afghanistan, there are a number of restrictions. Despite the stable security situation in Mazar-e Sharif, however, certain protection is mandatory for international development workers. The biggest constraint for Christiane Althoff is the restrictions posed on women's freedom of movement. In Afghanistan, women are required to wear a traditional burqa in public. 'I can't just put on my trainers and go jogging or cycle to the shop. It is only now that I cherish the true value of freedom of movement.' A walk in the woods or a stroll through a pedestrian precinct is her number one pastime when on leave.

Despite these drawbacks, however, Christiane Althoff is convinced that the many lessons she will learn in this country nestled at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains will stay with her forever: 'I am not sure who is learning more – the Afghan teachers or me,' she says. But maybe she can add a few drops to the river and help advance Afghanistan’s development.

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