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Kansas State University Strengthens Partnership with Kabul University

This article originally appeared in the Kansas State Collegian on October 24

Kansas State (K-State) representatives have made progress at Kabul University in Afghanistan since a contractual agreement took place six months ago to improve two academic sections at Kabul, said two K-State faculty members who have visited the university.

Suzanne Donnelly, K-State instructor of international programs, and Garth Thompson, K-State professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering, spoke about their Kabul experiences Tuesday afternoon at the Little Theatre in the K-State Student Union.

Donnelly said when she first arrived in August at her Kabul office, she was told it had been at least 15 years since someone used the space. Her first objective was to make the space ready to meet with faculty members. She also said university buildings had broken windows and bullet holes in their walls, and a pencil sharpener did not exist in the English department building. Warfare has taken place in Afghanistan for more than 25 years.

Despite inadequate facilities, Donnelly said English teachers in Kabul set high expectations and standards for their department. A decision-making process was established to help aid those high standards, she said.

"What was really different about this project than any other project they had experienced that they told me was that this was the first time that anyone had involved them in the decision-making process," Donnelly said. "In a partnership, we thought that was a little different. A partnership meant we work together and make those decisions, and so that's really the way I've approached it."

Donnelly said six principles guided faculty members during the decision-making process - high expectations, challenging content, quality instruction, appropriate assessments, full language proficiency and shared responsibility.

"They want challenging content - right now, they have none," Donnelly said. "They have no books. They have no syllabuses. I think the last syllabus designed - that I could find - was in 1976, so it's pretty old."

K-State and Kabul University representatives signed two three-year contracts worth $5.5 million on April 25 to improve Kabul's College of Engineering and the English department. K-State also signed a $2 million contract with the University of Balkh in Afghanistan. World Bank supplied the funds for both contractual agreements.

Yar Ebadi, K-State's College of Business Administration dean, said English will be used as a medium of instruction for Kabul's entire university. Ebadi, an Afghan native, is a graduate of and former faculty member at Kabul University.

Thompson said he already has spent six months at Kabul, and he planned to go back to the university today until the winter holiday season. He said he plans to spend several periods during the next three years at the university.

While past benefactors have provided items like generators and computers to the university, Thompson said Kabul faculty and staff members were not shown how to use the items.

"We've come there to make a difference and make a change," Thompson said about K-State.

Donnelly also plans to travel to Kabul again. While good and bad situations exist in the reconstruction of the English department, Donnelly said "the challenges are great."

"This is really the future of Afghanistan," Donnelly said as an image of young Afghan children projected on the screen. "These kids need to go to college, and they need a good education. These are reasons why we go, and we can't forget the human side to what we do."

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