Afghanistan Higher Education Project (HEP)

hep.glp.net
Funded by
USAID
Undertaken in coordination with
AED prior to the acquisition by FHI 360, Indiana University, and University of Massachusetts
Video:
Interview with HEP participant

In a country where security is fragile, travel difficult, technology literacy rare, and teaching resources scarce, the Afghanistan Higher Education Project (HEP) Portal connects hundreds of Afghan teachers across the country and abroad via an online community. Through the portal, they share educational materials, join conversations, find information about educational initiatives, and collaborate with each other to meet the challenges in their daily life and Afghanistan’s education system.

The portal is navigable in English and Dari, and features digital libraries with more than a thousand educational materials in English, Dari, and Pashto. Professors upload their own scholarship and discuss articles by colleagues on discussion boards and on individual faculty pages.

The portal also supports other HEP activities, such as providing online forms for a Master’s program in education; collaborative areas for establishing national standards; coursework pages for professional development; and forums to promote English-language learning.

GLP built a thriving community of teachers by conducting regular in-country trainings, providing ongoing support to computer instructors at education faculties, building leadership teams of portal champions, and building capacity within the Ministry of Higher Education to operate and manage dynamic, interactive portals.

Experience in the Field: A Scarce Biography Found

During one portal workshop in Kunduz, a GLP trainer was introducing teachers to the concept of digital libraries. As an exercise, the trainer asked teachers to choose a subject that interested them, and examine some of the materials available. A silence followed – interrupted by a shout from an older professor. He apologized, but then explained that he had been talking with a colleague before the workshop about how he wished to find a biography of a certain former Afghan king – and the first document he found under the library topic he selected was a nine-page article about him.

Lessons Learned
  • User Context and User Support Matters: Much of the success of the Afghanistan Higher Education Portal is due to the effort spent building and supporting a community of users, especially in light of the particular circumstances in Afghanistan, where the user base is broad (from teaching students to senior professors), technology literary is low, and individuals face limited internet access outside of computer labs.

    From the initial needs assessments, GLP realized that face-to-face trainings with the opportunity to get real time user feedback, quick response to usability concerns, repeated follow-ups, and the identification and empowerment of local champions would be crucial to making the project a success. This work demonstrated GLP’s commitment user-centered tools that meet their needs, and allows GLP to refine the portal with feedback they provided.

  • Language Matters: The launch of the portal in Dari ensured that users did not have language as a barrier to using the portal – either for joining conversations or finding materials.

  • Technology Infrastructure: Another key factor was ensuring access to the internet. The availability of computer labs at education faculties ensured that teachers could join a community of regular users.

  • Long term sustainability requires capacity building within Ministry: The HEP Portal will eventually be turned over to the Ministry of education to manage: both the content/user management and the technological infrastructure (servers, software, security, network, etc). However, the indigenous capacity within Afghanistan to manage this sort of technology project is weak; the private sector is not strong in this area, power remains a problem throughout the country, and internal capacity within the ministry is lacking.

    The decision to plan for more intensive face to face meetings and trainings by GLP staff in country is part of the knowledge transfer plan, where counterparts within the ministry and other partners participate in the HEP project development and implementation, to help them in their eventual take over of the project.

 

Afghanistan Higher Education Portal

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Professor Firoz Karimi from Faryab University speaks about how technology, specifically, the Global Learning Portal, has changed his profession.