Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Said Tayeb Jawad, will speak in the Colgate Memorial Chapel on Thursday as part of a conference on higher education in developing countries.
The three-day conference is part of a Colgate initiative to improve the higher education systems of such countries, with a special focus on the University of Kabul in Afghanistan.
During the conference, Colgate will host such high-profile academic figures as Dr. Ashraf Ghani, former Minister of Finance and now Chancellor of the University of Kabul; Richard Mancke ’65, founding Dean of the Business School of the International University in Germany; Derek Keats, leader of the African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources (AVOIR) project; Maria Beebe, who is working toward a network of all Afghan universities; Fred Baker, chair of the Internet Society’s Board of Trustees; and Heidi Ross, Professor of Educational Policy Studies and East Asian Studies at Indiana University.
“In terms of the goals we are trying to achieve,” Associate Professor of Computer Science Alexander Nakhimovsky said, “The ambassador is almost secondary.”
Dean of the Sophomore Year Experience Raj Bellani is responsible for organizing the logistics of the conference.
“I think it’s going to be an amazing opportunity for the students,” he said. “It’s a huge event for us.”
Michael Smith ’70 conceived of the so-called “Afghanistan Project” while doing pro bono legal work in Afghanistan in 2003 and 2005. At the time, Smith met Ghani and discussed with him the challenges of rehabilitating the university after a quarter-century of war.
Nakhimovsky said that the faculty of the University of Kabul is made up almost exclusively of two groups: professors over 55 who speak little English and were educated in 1970’s Russia, and professors under 35 who have energy, English language skills and no education past a Bachelor of Arts degree.
The University of Kabul’s main objectives are to teach all engineering, science and computer classes in English starting in two years, to establish access to computer networks on its campus and to provide its faculty with modern, doctorate-level education.
In pursuit of these goals, a small group of Colgate computer science students will go to the University of the Western Cape in South Africa this summer to help develop a free version of Blackboard with Keats’ AVOIR project for use by developing countries. The Blackboard network, according to Nakhimovsky, costs tens of thousands of dollars in its current form.
South Africa, by virtue of its advanced, English-speaking, relatively inexpensive higher educational system, is also the location of ongoing computer science faculty education for the University of Kabul.
Nakhimovsky, who has played a key role in developing the project, acknowledged that safety concerns and logistical difficulties make a direct relationship between Colgate and the University of Kabul very unlikely.
“While the university-to-university relationship [with Afghanistan] is just impossible, a university-to-university relationship with South Africa is quite possible,” Nakhimovsky said. “The educational problems of Afghanistan are very common to less developed countries. Once you say that, then the solutions are also common.”
Provost, Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Physics Lyle Roelofs has confidence that Colgate can be a part of that solution.
“Right now, we’ve got plenty of expertise that could be helpful at all levels, but we don’t have the familiarity,” he said.
“Kabul University is going to need help for a long, long time,” Smith said. “[And Colgate] will benefit from this relationship in that it will expand the horizons of the university.”