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UMass awarded $11.2 million to help build Afghan ‘community college’

AMHERST — The School of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst has signed at $11.2 million agreement with the U.S. Agency for International Development to expand and extend efforts to improve higher education in Afghanistan.

The agreement more than doubles funding for the School of Education’s Center for International Education (CIE) in Afghanistan, bringing the total to more than $21 million. Among other accomplishments, CIE established the first functioning master’s degree program in Afghanistan in at least 30 years and had awarded degrees to 65 graduates in three classes, or “cohorts,” before turning the program over to Kabul Education University this summer.

Joseph Berger, co-director of the program and associate dean for research and engagement at the School of Education, said the focus of the program will now shift to include helping to design a model for a network of Afghan educational institutions that focus on combining academic and technical skills – not unlike community colleges in the U.S.

“This is, in many respects, a brand new idea for them,” said Berger. “For example, comparatively speaking, there are plenty of engineers in Afghanistan, but not enough technicians. Engineers outnumber technicians six to one, the inverse of many developing nations. In mining, for instance, there is a need for a whole layer of supervisors and technicians that doesn’t exist.”

In addition, said Berger, the program will attempt to strengthen the development of graduate education by launching a master’s level academic program in public policy and administration. In more than five years in Afghanistan, the project has focused on things like building capacity, curriculum review, peer faculty review, and identifying faculty leaders in order to ensure the overall quality of education.

“This grant will allow us to work more deeply and broadly with the Ministry of Education in Afghanistan in capacity building,” Berger said.

Berger said the program is driven and informed by the values that have driven the School of Education itself – by working with the Afghan people to build teaching, planning and management skills in a way that they can be spread throughout the country by Afghans themselves.

“The foundation grows out of the responsiveness and respect of all the parties involved,” said Berger. “The impetus for change in a country like Afghanistan is a shared endeavor.”

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