Darakht-e Danesh Online Library for Educators
Darakht-e Danesh Online Library for Educators
The Darakht-e Danesh (‘knowledge tree’) Library for Educators in Afghanistan is Afghanistan's first comprehensive digital educational resource collection. Its purpose is to enhance teacher subject-area knowledge, access and use of learning materials, and to foster more diverse teaching methodologies in order to improve learning outcomes in Afghan classrooms.
The Darakht-e Danesh (‘knowledge tree’) Library (DD Library) is a repository of open education resources (OERs) for teachers, teacher trainers, school administrators and others involved in education. The DD Library uses an innovative interactive, multilingual custom-designed web platform, and currently houses over 2,000 resources in 15 subject categories, for both primary and secondary teachers in Afghanistan, in the three languages taught in the Afghan public school system: Dari, Pashto, and English.
With millions of girls back in school, new teacher colleges opened throughout Afghanistan, a second National Education Strategic Plan in place, and curricular reform ongoing, the education system in Afghanistan is experiencing a rebirth. Yet significant challenges remain. Over 30 years of war and an ongoing insurgency that has singled out teachers and girls' education for attack makes this a difficult environment in which to teach and to learn. Afghan teachers contend with a daunting lack of resources: Most schools do not have libraries or science labs, many students go without textbooks, and teachers have little material to help them work through a new curriculum that many struggle to understand. The majority of Afghan teachers (estimated by the Ministry of Education at 58%) are unqualified or under-qualified, with many having no post-secondary education at all. It can be difficult to find quality resources in Dari and Pashto for educational use in particular, and the local language publishing industry is in its infancy in general. Most books are imported from countries like Iran, where the dialect of Farsi is substantially different from Afghan Dari, and publishing in Pashto is almost non-existent.
Overall, the education system was ravaged by a conflict spanning nearly four decades, impacting all inputs into the system from teachers, school buildings, textbooks, planning and policy, and learning materials. While dramatic progress has been made in some sectors – such as healthcare where many key indicators like maternal mortality and child health have skyrocketed – progress in education has been sluggish, with literacy rates remaining low and learning outcomes among school children extremely low. For example, recent national reading exams have found that up to 50% of children are still illiterate at the end of grade six. Even those who manage to complete secondary school are finishing without essential skills in critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving.
The Darakht-e Danesh platform allows users to search the database by subject, resource type, language and level, or just browse the collection. Users will also find a list of links to other educational resources that may serve them in their learning or teaching.
The system also taps into Afghanistan’s large diaspora community, relying on bilingual Afghans with specific areas of expertise – such as health and medicine, or language and literature – to translate OERs into Dari and Pashto. All of the translators are volunteers and their generous contributions have allowed for a cost-effective and efficient means of creating local language knowledge resources. All translations are vetted by a professional editor in the relevant language who provides feedback and edits to the volunteer, before final publication. This skilled volunteer opportunity is one that is done remotely and virtually, and allows Afghans who have left their country a meaningful way of staying connected to their homeland and of contributing to improving the education sector. The team of volunteers has become a global community of supporters contributing to the evolution of this tool.
Besides the content produced in-house in Dari and Pashto, the organization has partnered to add content to their library, under the condition that the materials are freely accessible to users. For example, UNESCO gave a large cache of teacher education materials in Dari and Pashto, and a local Afghan publishing house agreed to make their local language children’s storybooks available in PDF in the online library.
Currently, the Library is used in several ways. Educators independently access www.darakhtdanesh.org and use the resources to plan lessons, improve their subject knowledge, or deliver new activities in their classroom, and teacher trainers use it in teachers colleges.
Besides the individual users, another way the tool is used is by organizations that use the resources with their own beneficiary populations in Afghanistan. For example, the World University Service of Canada is establishing Afghanistan’s first teacher accreditation and standardization system, and has been using DDL resources to train lecturers. Education faculty graduate students from the American University of Afghanistan are using the library resources. CW4WAfghan uses the materials in its in-service teacher-training program, the Fanoos Teacher Education Program, under which 1,000 teachers in rural areas are trained annually (8,000 teachers have been trained in the program since its establishment in 2008).
The goal is to have 10,000 registered users by the end of 2015 by publicizing the tool in the Afghan media, billboards, demos in teacher colleges and education organizations, and through social media. In March 2015, the library housed 1,766 unique resources, and there were 10,896 page views in the five-month period of November 2014 – March 2015.
In addition, Darakht-e Danesh future plans include: 1) expanding the current means of access to the site, and launching new access models; 2) setting up strong systems to measure the impact of their work, and use the findings to improve; and 3) documenting what they’ve learned and seeing their tool replicated in other countries.