Taking Education Beyond Books

Khalil Mohammad Sarbaz was lucky to attend Amani High School in Kabul. The elite school, which received support from Germany, was recognised for setting standards in modern education – in teaching German as a foreign language and for its qualified German teachers.

But education became a victim of urban warfare during the civil strife. The Taliban, which came to power in 1996, renounced western-style schooling.

The situation changed dramatically after the fall of Taliban in 2001 — Sarbaz’ second to last year in school. There was renewed interest in education; German instructors arrived in Amani and Sarbaz, hooked on the language and literature. For life.

Today, Sarbaz, 32, is the head of the German department in Kabul University. He is leading a drive to revive interest in the language across the country, with a good response from students, both men and women.

There are about 110 students at the German department in the university and half of them are women. They learn more than just a foreign language; they learn critical thinking, research methods, and teamwork, all of which Sarbaz picked up during his Masters degree, which he completed in Germany from 2008 to 2011.

“The things that I have learned in Germany, I am passing on to my students and the German department,” he says.

A year after graduating in German language courses and literature from Kabul University, Sarbaz won a scholarship for a Masters degree at Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany. He returned to Afghanistan three years later and has been working at the university’s German department ever since.

He studied inter-cultural communications in Jena. That helped him develop soft skills to deal with cultural issues and to work with people from diverse backgrounds without any social or gender bias. “Everything I learned in Germany is useful to me here at Kabul University,” he said.

A generational transition was taking place at the university, Sarbaz says, in terms of academics and work culture. “Emails must be replied to on time and feedback must be given in a constructive manner. Anyone in a leadership position must know the needs and requirements of his team.”

“The methodology of teaching in Afghanistan is artificial; it involves lots of listening and reading, but no critical thinking. This method is futile,” Sarbaz says. He is trying to change that. “One needs to have the skills to read, to analyse, and to think critically.” 

“In the past when students asked for study or research material we couldn’t provide them because we didn’t have any,” Sarbaz says. “Today, we have all the material. When students come to me, I take them straight to the relevant link on the computer and guide them to the right topic.”

Students, faculty, and staff are also afforded the chance to continue their studies and to train in Germany. Four professors from Kabul University will attend a four-week training at Friedrich Schiller University during the upcoming winter. Sarbaz has also managed to send at least five students from Kabul University to Friedrich Schiller University. “Our students met all the requirements,” he says with pride.

Publication: 12/2017
Programme: Integrated and returning experts 
Commissioned by: German Federal Foreign Office
Partner: Afghan ministries and institutions
Implementing organisation: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH
Provinces: Balkh, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, Khost, Nangarhar
Programme objective: Develop effective state administrative structures.
Overall term: January 2010 – June 2018
The things that I have learned in Germany, I am passing on to my students and the German department.
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