As the new school year begins we are ready for another exciting time of global communication - where ideas are shared and friends are found.
See you online!
From the Relief International/Schools Online staff in Tajikistan: Garth, Ibrohim, Adiba, Gulnoz, Shuhrat, Nigina, and Murod
To implement the US State Department’s policy of creating better mutual understanding using technology and a regional focus, the Global Connections and Exchange program opens Internet Learning Centers (ILCs) in schools, combined with civic education programs, online fora, and physical exchanges between the United States and participating countries with significant Muslim populations.
Use of the internet is seen as a vital medium for reaching and affecting target audiences, the rising popularity and unique nature of the Internet are causing it to surpass even television as the most effective and influential medium. While television and radio still play a dominant role in how youth learn about the world, the internet offers the unique ability for youth to upload their personal knowledge and cultures to more actively participate in discussions with their global peers.
GCE is administered by several separate non-governmental organizations working in 22 countries including; Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, the Palestinian Authorities (West Bank), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Syria, and United Arab Emirates (UAE). The programs vary in content and scope in each of the countries as they are supported by separate funding mechanisms, but the goals of reaching youth in Muslim countries to develop critical thinking skills, to connect them with their peers in their home country as well as globally and specifically in the United States, and to bring educational reform are a consistent goals.
In Tajikistan the GCE program began in 2003 and help spread the reach of the internet into remote corners of Tajikistan. As part of the program ReliefÂ International installed computer equipment, provided Internet access and ran a series of educational and training programs. Currently there are 26 ILCs (see map above) in all regions of the country. In addition to installing computers and conducting trainings in regular schools there is one ILC located in the school for the deaf in Dushanbe and another ILC at the Islamic University in Dushanbe. Through the use of the ILCs youth from all regions of Tajikistan have been able to form connections never before possible. Within Tajikistan the country has been historically divided by vast mountain ranges; young people from the north would rarely be able to communicate with their peers in the south of the country. Now because of GCE youth can discuss their lives, their community service projects, their beliefs, hope for the futures, as well as form new friendships.
The GCE program has of course also connected the youth of Tajikistan to the global community in ways never imagined just a few years ago. Through educational programs and internet access students are able to go online to participate in global discussions, can find new information for the classes, and are able to create new information to share with the world. The internet is changing and so are the youth, program participants are no longer passive observers on the Web “but actively creating content and generating new ideas. With this it is hoped that the mutual bonds formed with students between Tajik, the United States, and entire global community will being about an understanding that will transcend prior misunderstanding and prejudices. Of course this is a lofty goal, but we know that we are not alone in this quest.
Anna Mussman, GCE program officer for the BECA describes the program as, a unique and unprecedented public diplomacy tool. Through virtual linkages with teens and educators in the United States, this tool enhances America’s presence in more than 1,000 schools worldwide. Using state-of-the art technology, GCE not only conveys American values and traditions to the most remote areas of the world, but also empowers American and foreign youth by giving them a voice in their communities and channeling their energy to help their home communities.
The program was initiated first in Armenia in the fall of 2000 where a network of internet learning centers located in secondary schools was established throughout the country. In 2003 the program was significantly expanded to become a regional program that targeted the use of internet in schools as a tool of American public diplomacy for Muslim popualtions. In addition to the internet centers, curriculum designed to enhance critical thinking skills and lessons in civic education are included in the project design. Schools were partnered with schools in the United States to facilitate dialogue across borders. By 2005 the program included physical exchanges of teachers and student to the United States, as well as US teachers being given the opportunity to visit their partner schools in the Muslim world.
In a State Department sponsored evaluation of the programs effectiveness toward reaching the stated goals of improving dialogue and mutual understanding the report summarized that: Even with differences in the participant’s prior level of knowledge, involvement in the Program significantly changed and enhanced [the participants} understanding of society, culture, and daily life in the United States. Students now understand that they live, learn, and function in a public space that is less confined, its dimensions less limited by national borders, and more global. (GCEP Report p ix) Specifically the GCE program has led to a situation where, "Most SCP and BRIDGE students have favorable views of the American people, roughly half of the program teachers reported that their views of U.S. values, culture, and daily life have changed moderately or substantially as a result of the Program and over 90 percent of Master Trainers reported favorable views of the American people. (GCEP p.x) At the exact time when attitudes toward the United States was in a global tailspin, teachers and students that participated in GCE programs held an increasingly positive view of the United States and had a better understanding of the American people. This positive view of the US was not limited to only program participants, but created a multiplier effect as well where positive attitudes toward the US were spread throughout the community through peers, family members and the community. In addition critical thinking skills among youth were enhanced allowing them to have a better understanding of their life choices that lay before them and communicated their messages throughout there personal network. Other measurable benefits of the program include an increase in the desire and ability to speak English, the development of marketable IT skills, increased motivation for girls to stay in school, and positive changes in school curriculum. As one instructor at an internet learning center in Tajikistan explained, When the students learned about the Internet and realized it was a network with the whole world, their interest explodedâ€ (GCE report p74).
This positive experience was true for teachers and staff involved in the program as well with 90% of the teachers responding that they have generally favorable or strongly favorable views of the American people and 60% responding that their views and understanding of the United States had have changed either moderately or substantially as a result of their participation In addition, joint projects across national boundaries appear to be a very effective way of enhancing mutual understanding. Eighty percent or more of the teachers say that joint projects with partner schools have helped them to gain a better understanding of the culture in these countries. The trainers hired to work in the internet centers had a very strong favorable impression of the United States 93 percent of the Master Trainers also indicate that their views of the American people are stro ngly favorableto generally favorable. The report identified that trainers were a strong connection to the community enhancing the multiplier effect. (GCE report).
Even more important perhaps than creating a more positive view of the Unites States has been the GCE program's ability to foster two way mutual understanding between students from Muslim countries and the United States. U.S. students report learning more about the lives of students that participate in the program, and likewise students from the participating countries â€œin focus groups and informal discussions, students report œdiscovering that students from other countries are very much like them. Many of the students and teachers emphasized how friendships have formed between participants in different countries through the online activities. (GCE report p.171) One student in Lebanon told how, "I used to think that [other participants] were very different from us, After I met them and talked to them, I feel that they are like me and they have cares and concerns just like me” even if we are from other countries, we can be friends [in spite] of everything (GCE report p.49). The program also helps the youth participants grow as individuals and global citizens, a student in Lebanon related how participation help her to grow â€œsocially, culturally and politically “ it made me more self-confident and I learned that I have a lot to give and a lot to learn. While a young female student in a very rural area of Tajikistan near the Afghan border said how, “we are not afraid of going anywhere in the world now,” (GCE report p.78)
The first evaluation of the Global Connections and Exchange program can be found at: