Nagorno-Karabakh is a landlocked region which seceded from Azerbaijan in 1991, and has been engaged in a low-grade military conflict involving Azerbaijan and Armenia ever since. Recently they have launched a New Education Project to improve primary education across the region.
Many of the children in the region have schools, and some have internet access. This week, they launched a small OLPC project, deploying laptops to 3,300 students in 16 connected primary schools in the cities of Stepanakert (the region’s capital), Shushi, and Karin Tak.
Vladik Khachatryan, Minister of Education and Science of Nagorno-Karabakh, was present at the launch. He announced,
This program will improve the quality of education of elementary school students in the NKR, and what is more important, will make more information available to them and their families… within a short period of time we will be able to establish equal educational opportunities in all NKR.
Education is a key factor to breaking the vicious cycle of ethnic hatred and violence for children who live in conflict zones.
I look forward to seeing the project develop, and hope that the recent focus on children and education brings stability and peace to the region.
The OLPC concept is predicated on the idea that technology can reach this generation of children and teach them to think critically, and analytically, and can connect them to each other and the world’s body of knowledge. If these things were to come to pass for this generation of Afghani children, the world will look very different in ten years than it does now.
McChrystal and Smith and others acknowledged that this is not a normal war. It is a war where the US is engaged in building better lives for the people of the country, a war which seeks to build social capital between the government and its people, a war which seeks to build peace by building education and
All were hugely receptive to the idea that OLPC could: 1) Educate this generation of children right now, 2) end the isolation of the Afghani people, and 3) build social capital between the people and the government.
I asked McChrystal to be a champion of OLPC in Washington and in Kabul, and asked him to think about ways to fund every child in Afghanistan. He
asked for the dollar figure. I said it would cost $1 billion to connect every child. He didn’t blink. It can be done. In his words, “Our job is to end violence, and this is one way we can do it.“
Coming up in this series: Building partnerships and future preparations.
I travelled to Kabul, Afghanistan last week with two purposes: To assess prospective partners on the ground, including the Ministry of Education (MOE), in order to get a sense of both intent and capacity; and to meet with potential supporters for OLPC in Afghanistan, and craft a strategy for the coming year.
Afghanistan is a hugely complicated part of the world. Regional politics are impacted by the politics of India, Iran and Pakistan, and the geopolitical wrangling of America, Russia and China add an entirely different element into the mix. Combine this with decades of virtually uninterrupted war, limited natural resources, and low rural literacy, and you have a country that needs dramatic change in education.
Although relatively rapid progress has been made recently in the education sector, just over half (52%) of primary school aged children are enrolled in school. Furthermore, due to a shortage of schools and teachers, schools are forced to operate in “shifts”, the average being three “shifts” per day, meaning that each child generally receives only 2.5 hrs (5 x 30min periods) of school each day. The time constraints imposed by the shift system, combined with the fact that teacher-student ratios are often as high as 1:50-75, result in Afghan children receiving only about half the OECD recommended average time in school. In addition, many teachers in Afghanistan have an education level only a few years greater than the students they are teaching. The result is a cycle of rote education, with limited opportunities for innovation.
The conventional remedy of building more schools, training more teachers and providing more materials would require a six fold increase to the education budget (over a billion USD per year), would take 10-15 years to yield measurable results, and would be prey to some of these same problems.