By Khalid Hashmani
Washington DC, November 2009 — Two separate batches of 26 female and 26 male high school (10th grade) students from the rural areas of Sindh, Balochistan, and FATA areas attended a two-week training in Northern Virginia, a suburb of Washington DC. The training was held during October and November of 2009. Their visit was made possible under a Pakistan-US Cultural program funded by US Aid.
Each batch of students was accompanied by four Pakistani chaperones. They visited important places, met US government leaders, and learned computer skills. The training program was developed and conducted by KZO Education http://www.kzoeducation.com/, who is a subcontractor on the five-year ED-LINKS program to improve educational opportunities in Pakistan. The program is called Learning 2.0 (based on evolving Internet Web 2.0 concepts) with focus on social networking, wikis, and virtual communities. Mr. Waseem Chachar, a local Sindhi graduate student with interest in improving education in rural Sindh first introduced me to this program that cumulated in making it possible for me to facilitate a 90-minute interactive session that I like to cal “An information exchange between an old rural Sindhi-American and young rural Pakistani Visitors”.
ED-LINKS and Learning 2.0
The Learning 2.0 program focuses on participation instead of presentation. The main objective of the 90-million ED-LINKS program is improve quality of teacher education and student performance in targeted geographical areas of Pakistan. KZO’s goal is to expand the goal of ED-LINKS and connect 10,000 schools in Pakistan via Internet. This they want to do using technologies and concepts such as online video delivery, content management, webcast, distance learning, real-time viewing, and video-on-demand. The key technologies to connect this large number of communities is “WiMAX for education”, which is similar to Wi-Fi’s wireless transmission. It offers maximum bandwidth of 75 mbps and a range of 31 miles. The idea is to connect computer labs in 10,000 public schools to the WiMAX infrastructure. A successful model of this concept is already operational at the Federal Government Model Boys School G-9/4 in Islamabad. If the program is successfully implemented, it will open a “window into the World” for millions of students in Pakistan. The intend is to record lectures from top Pakistani teachers and distribute them over the Internet, thereby extending quality education to millions of students including those in the rural areas of Pakistan. For more information, contact: 2214 Rock Hill Road, #020, Herndon, Virginia 20170 or via email to email@example.com.
Student Exchange and Technical Camps
The Pakistan-US Exchange Program is to promote closer relationships between the two countries and share learning and teaching competencies. The exchange program was started in 2008 and the two batches of female and male students that were in the Washington DC area in 2009 were a part of that program. It is hoped that these students and teachers, when return to Pakistan will serve as peer instructors and share their knowledge and experience with other students, thereby contribute in the creation of a creative educational environment with focus on quality education. In addition, the interactive sessions and presentations of the training camps will be videotaped and posted on Learning 2.0 websites so that schools connected through Internet can also learn the same skills and technologies. As a part of the camp, the students created social networks using Face Book and other similar tools and that have and will further facilitate cultural exchanges with global student communities.
An Information Exchange between an old rural Sindhi-American and young rural Pakistani visitors
26 Female Secondary School Students
The program for 26 female students started on October 5 and ended on October 16, 2009. Some of highlights of their activities included visiting Air and Space museum in Washington DC, training in computers and Internet, and Digital photography including editing and cropping photographs. They learned MS Power Point, MS Word and MS Excel. When I entered the meeting room on October 9 at 7:30 PM, the energetic and curious group of 10th grade students and two teachers were keenly listening to a young web photography entrepreneur. The young presenter was talking about how he conceived and developed his idea of photography services to corporations and how he went about finding customers. I followed his tough act and before my turn came, I threw away notes that I had prepared on the topic of “Key Problems of education in rural areas of Pakistan and how Americans, particularly Pakistani-Americans, and students in rural areas can help in resolving them” and decided simply to engage in an interactive dialogue. I talked about my rural roots, my up-bringing in rural Sindh, my academic pursuits, and experiences in living in several countries and how I ended up in Northern Virginia. I communicated in three languages Sindhi, Urdu, and English and encouraged students to ask me questions in their native languages. The students were quite excited and participated in one of the most energetic dialog that I have ever had. They spoke in Sindhi, Balochi, Punjabi, and Pashto. They asked questions about what academic and skills that I had to acquire in order to pursue my career in Software Engineering and what motivated me to continue my journey for excellence. In turn, I advised them about determination. perseverence, and honesty in pursuing their goals. A girl from Sindh, speaking in Sindhi mentioned that it would be very hard for her pursue further education because the school in her area taught only up to 10th grade. Speaking in Balochi, another girl from Balochistan complained that normal life in her small town was paralyzed due to conflict between Pakistan military and Baloch nationalists and she really wanted to pursue career to become a Software Engineer. Almost every girl asked questions and communicated a common theme about her aspiration to pursue education and the obstacles that she had to cross. A session that was scheduled for only one hour got extended to 90 minutes and had to end because another event was getting delayed. Two organizers of the program immediately followed me as I left the meeting room and profoundly thanked me for engaging all students and energizing them to pursue their goals and dreams.
26 Male Students (October 26, 2009 – November 6, 2009)
Like their female counterparts did earlier, they received similar training and engaged in similar activities. Apart from visiting museums and receiving training in Learning 2.0 technologies, they heard Wes Curver, CEO of KZO, who spoke on entrepreneurship and applications of Internet video technologies. The students met US Congressman Chris Van Hollen and took a tour of the US Congress/Capitol building and talked few Legislative Assistants. They visited Fairfax Regional Library, Pakistan Embassy, and had a good kabab dinner at “Charcoal Kabab” restaurant, which is quite popular with local Sindhis and other Pakistanis. It just happened that the Sindhi students were delighted to meet another Sindhi-American, Dr. Ghulam Mohammad Memon. They heard Mr. Vinton G. Serf (Chief Internet Evangelist for Google) and participated in “Trick or Treat” event on the Halloween night. They visited Loudon County School and participated in a video conferencing session. I held my interactive session with them on October 30th, their interest, curiosity and tons of questions made it extremely energetic session lasting for almost two hours and ended when an organizer said that the dinner was ready. I was pleasantly surprised that there were 10-12 students from Sindh and similar number were from Balochistan. Once again, the students went wild when I encouraged them to ask questions in their native languages and I replied or tried to reply in the same native language. I must confess that other than Pushto, I was able effectively communicate in other native languages of Pakistan. The group was very career oriented with almost universal interest in seeking career in the field of Software Engineering. They asked all kinds of questions on how to secure scholarships and how to prepare for a career. A student from Sindh wanted to know how he should go about securing admission and scholarship to study medicine. Another student from Balochistan, said they did not have single computer in their small town and asked how they should go about establishing a computer lab in their town.
A closing ceremony was held on November 6, 2009 and was globally webcast live. Mr. I. J. Hudson, former anchor of NBC-owned and -operated WRC-TV in Washington DC hosted the event. A video of student activities was shown at the event. The Sindhi “Ajark” appeared to be the attire of the morning as many students and some organizers wore it to highlight the participation of rural Sindhis. Other highlights of the event included:
* An address by Peter Farrell, Director of Alumni Relations at George Mason University about scholarship opportunities in the United States and at George Mason University.
* A demonstration by Chris Abraham, a social media expert on uploading of pictures on Internet.
* An extremely informative presentation tailored for 10th grade students by Mancy Overholt, Executive Director of the Institute of International Education, who arranges and supervises academic placements of most Fulbright nominees on application and selection process for Fulbright scholarships.
* A talk by Kokab Farshori., Managing Editor for Voice of America (VOA)’s Urdu program about VOA programming and journalism in Pakistan.
* A Google Earth presentation about Balochistan and Sindh, zooming on the districts from which some of the participating students came from. These included Jacobabad, Kashmore, Karachi, Dadu, Mithi, Deeplo, Peshawar, Dadu, Sibi, Quetta, and others.
Several students were interviewed about what they learnt in the training and what cultural aspects they were impressed or surprise and finally each student was awarded a Training completion certificate.
About Author: Mr. Khalid Hashmani is a Washington DC-based veteran human rights activist. He is the founding President of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) and Chief coordinator of Sindhi Excellence Team (SET) that participates in advocacy activities on behalf of rural Sindhi.