The words of a student and peer of ours, spoken three years ago, still ring in our ears today: “Books are great, but we have nobody to teach them.” In Khorog, Tajikistan, students desire much more from the books they receive from charities. They want to engage them.
Disparities in access to “quality” education have brought the global community into a learning crisis. Access to education does not simply mean the availability of tangible resources, especially when the infrastructure to make use of those resources does not exist. In Khorog, many families cannot afford to send their children to private school, the only means through which students are prepared for institutions of higher education. They must resort to schools much too far away, or schools whose locations shift due to infrastructural issues. These institutions have dwindling resources: they suffer, primarily, from the lack of qualified or credentialed teachers. And learning English is rarely an option afforded past primary school.
We became aware of these conditions in Tajikistan during our first year of high school, when we had the opportunity to speak with students in Khorog, who complained about wasted resources. They felt as if they were being denied the capacity to learn in the same ways as others more privileged than themselves—as if they did not possess the same faculties for learning. In collaboration, we discovered that having access to regular English language classes would provide them with a valuable skill set with which to engage the larger world. English is a lingua franca, and it has become a prerequisite for entrance into universities worldwide—even in Tajikistan—and for careers across the board. We have worked for the last three years to create a non-profit organization, Learning Through Borders, in which English language classes are taught to Tajik students via a virtual medium.
Working with administrators at the University of Central Asia and Johnson County Community College, we devised an English language curriculum that would best prepare high school students for studies at the university level. Representatives of the Tajik government helped us gather a group of more than one hundred students to attend these classes, supplementary to their normal schooling, that are held every weekend. We coordinated a multinational team of credentialed teachers from the United States, Indonesia, France, and Tajikistan, who devoted their weekends to the program. We taught critical thinking classes every Saturday night—from midnight to four—relaying portable skills that we acquired from teachers and peers.
Learning Through Borders, we believe, is a small, scalable step in the right direction. Innovative solutions can be brought about in leveraging technologies and social networks. However, it is critical to remember that the medium itself is not the message. Computers and books are easily accessible around the world. Yet they remain scantily used; one must be taught to communicate through these tools, to learn with them, to use them to connect with others who possess a variety of talents, perspectives, and skills.
Growth is contingent on a much simpler relationship: that relationship created in the space and act of learning. We believe that we will emerge out of the learning crisis only when we are able to answer this question: how can we best foster learning for everyone?
The program is looking for college interns and local partnerships to help expand the organization into bridging the gap between students and higher education institutions across America. Participants/teachers can get involved by grading papers, commenting on interviews, making videos, joining live calls, etc. We are always looking for help throughout our program.
We encourage everyone to spread Learning Through Borders across their communities to help alleviate the global learning crisis and combat educational disparities in Khorog Tajikistan. To learn more about Learning Through Borders or how you can get involved, please email co-founder Ariza Nanji or Alihasan Lakhani at email@example.com or call 913-850-3299.
About the Authors
High school seniors Ariza Nanji and Alihasan Lakhani are the co-founders of the nonprofit Learning Through Borders.