A Look at the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University

The home of one of the world’s largest collections of material on Afghan history and society, the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University (ACKU) is dedicated to the process of helping to rebuild Afghanistan through the sharing of information and ideas. Read on to learn more about the amazing story of ACKU.

What is ACKU?

ACKU is an active, working archive comprised of over 100,000 items—including books, newspapers, magazines, CDs, posters, and films—on Afghanistan’s history and culture. Nearly half of this extensive collection is in two of the country’s main languages, Dari and Pashto. The rest are in English and other European languages. The archive is used by local and international students, journalists, development planners, researchers, and policy makers.

What is ACKU’s mission?

The broad mission of ACKU is to provide a place and platform where information and ideas about Afghanistan can be shared with Afghans and the wider world. Through research, educational initiatives, and public programs, ACKU aims to ensure access to critical knowledge and resources that can help to rebuild and enrich the social, political, economic, and cultural fabric of Afghanistan.

How did ACKU start?

Originally a semi-independent affiliate of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), the early version of ACKU was created in 1989 to serve as a central depository of information on Afghanistan with the goal of facilitating the coordination of humanitarian aid to Afghan refugees. Located outside the country for many years due to civil conflict, the center was brought home to Afghanistan in 2005, when it was transferred to the main library of Kabul University and renamed ACKU. In 2006, Kabul University allocated space for ACKU to build a new facility, and in 2013, the current ACKU premises were inaugurated. Today, the permanent home of ACKU consists of the archived collection, a reading room, a lecture hall, gallery space, and administrative space for ACKU’s mobile library outreach program, all centered around a main courtyard as a reflection of traditional Afghan architectural sensibilities.

ACKU was founded by two internationally recognized experts on Afghan history, art, and archaeology: Nancy Hatch Dupree and her husband, professor Louis Dupree. Having arrived in Kabul in 1962, Louis Dupree and his wife travelled extensively throughout Afghanistan conducting archaeological excavations and studying the country’s culture and society. Over the course of the next 50 years, Ms. Dupree would become one of the world’s premier authorities on Afghanistan’s cultural and artistic heritage. She has written five guidebooks about Afghanistan, as well as more than 1,000 articles, reviews, and book chapters on a wide variety of Afghan subjects.

Determined to help the people of Afghanistan preserve their vital cultural legacy, Ms. Dupree was the force behind the founding of ACBAR, the early iteration of ACKU, which she directed with her husband. In 2006, she took on the role of director of the renamed ACKU, where she served until 2011. The Louis and Nancy Hatch Dupree Foundation was established in 2007 to help ensure the long-term sustainability of ACKU and to support other awareness-building initiatives surrounding Afghan heritage and culture.

What’s going on at ACKU?

Currently, activities at ACKU include:

  • Acquisitions—One of ACKU’s most important activities is to continue to find, collect, and catalogue relevant documents and information. At present, many contemporary items come from sources such as the NGO community, government departments, the UN agency system, and private individuals. ACKU’s acquisitions officer is responsible for ensuring that pertinent material is gathered and housed appropriately in the center’s archives.
  • Digitization—Like other libraries around the world, ACKU is working to digitize its collection of physical documents in order to preserve data and expand its distribution reach. To date, over 12,000 titles—or more than 1 million pages of text and images—have been converted to PDF format and preserved on CD ROMs and DVDs.
  • Library training—A key part of ACKU’s mission is to help strengthen libraries and similar institutions throughout Kabul and across Afghanistan. Providing training programs for librarians without any formal professional education in the field is one strategy that ACKU is using to accomplish this mission. Two training programs have been conducted so far, for librarians with the support of the American Embassy and the Canadian Program Support Unit. Participants in the training sessions, which covered 72 hours of instruction, were introduced to a variety of subjects, including general library science, cataloguing, acquisitions, analytic cataloguing, and reference.
  • Research capacity building—With the goal of building analytical and research capacity in Afghanistan—and combatting the “brain drain” that the country experienced during its conflict years—ACKU is helping students and teachers alike to learn how to learn. The center offers induction courses for post-secondary students and faculty on the fundamentals of academic research, including the use of Internet search engines and databases. Concepts such as topic selection, plagiarism and ethics, and formatting and citations are also covered.

Spotlight on the Afghanistan National Institute of Music

Afghanistan’s rich and complex musical heritage—one of the world’s longest-thriving musical traditions—was nearly silenced by years of civil conflict. But today, the sounds of music are being heard throughout the country once again, due in large part to the efforts of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM). Read on to learn the story of this amazing institution that is helping to revive Afghanistan’s musical legacy.

 

Mission

ANIM logoAs Afghanistan’s leading institute for music education, ANIM is dedicated to providing a learning environment that is dynamic, challenging, and safe. Welcoming students of all backgrounds—including some of Afghanistan’s most disadvantaged children—ANIM aims to assure musical rights, transform the lives of Afghans through music, revive and preserve Afghanistan’s musical heritage, train future music educators and leaders, and promote cultural diplomacy efforts between Afghanistan and the international community.

 

Founder

ANIM’s founder Dr. Ahmad Sarmast is a musicologist and the son of one of Afghanistan’s best-known conductors. Having left Afghanistan to escape civil conflict in the early 1990s, he received a master’s degree in musicology from Moscow University in 1993, and then relocated with his family to Australia, where he completed a PhD at Melbourne’s Monash University in 2005. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Sarmast returned to Afghanistan to initiate the Revival of Afghan Music (ROAM) project, which focuses on preserving Afghanistan’s primarily oral music tradition by recording it using western music notation. The dream for ANIM emerged out of Dr. Sarmast’s work on the ROAM project. Today, Dr. Sarmast is widely credited with ushering in Afghanistan’s musical revolution.

 

History

Upon his return to Afghanistan, alongside the ROAM project, Dr. Sarmast began planning for ANIM with the support of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education and the Deputy Ministry for Technical Vocation and Educational Training. In April 2008, after two years of preparation, Dr. Sarmast took the vision for ANIM to the donor community. After garnering support from many donors, including the World Bank, the US Embassy, and the government of Germany, the inauguration of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music took place on June 20, 2010.

Since its establishment, ANIM has become known locally and internationally as a leader not only in music education, but in promoting intercultural dialogue within and beyond Afghanistan. Today, ANIM is home to nearly 250 students.

 

Programs – General Academics and Music

guitarANIM students, who range in age from grade 4 to grade 14, receive both specialized music training and a comprehensive core academic education in line with the priorities of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education. Students’ lessons include mathematics, science, social sciences, languages (Dari, Pashto, Arabic, and English), Quaranic studies, and Islamic studies.

Upon their entry to ANIM in grade 4, students begin learning recorder. In grade 5, they make their choice of specialist instrument from the full range of instruments in both Afghan and Western classical traditions. Music education includes instrumental lessons, music theory from both Western and Hindustani traditions, ear training, ensemble playing, and music history. ANIM’s faculty use traditional teaching methods, such as learning music aurally, to teach students in both group classes and one-on-one lessons. For Western music lessons, ANIM has benefitted from the expertise of hundreds of international guest artists and teachers.

Students graduate at the grade 12 level with a high school certificate and can choose to take further associate degree courses in grades 13 and 14.

Ensembles

The heart of music education at ANIM is ensemble playing, and the institute features a number of ensembles, large and small, that offer students the opportunity to collaborate, share, and contribute. These ensembles include:

Afghan Youth Orchestra—The first orchestra of its kind to be established in Afghanistan in more than 30 years, the AYO showcases the country’s unique and diverse musical landscape by combining Western orchestral instruments with traditional Afghan and North Indian classical instruments. The AYO has performed on numerous national and international tours, including sold-out shows in the United States at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall.

Young Afghan Traditional Ensemble—Under the direction of renowned rubab teacher Ustad Khial Mohammad, the beloved Young Afghan Traditional Ensemble brings the beautiful sounds of traditional Afghan instruments to life. Particularly in demand for local performances, this ensemble has also toured extensively on the international stage, including performances in the US, the UK, Denmark, Argentina, and South Korea.

Sitar and Sarod Ensemble—This ensemble features students of North India’s traditional instruments—the sitar, the sarod, and the table—performing Afghan and Indian classical music.

Qawwali Group—This vocal-based group features two lead singers, supporting singers, and musicians playing beautiful, religious-themed music using traditional Afghan and Indo-Afghan classical instruments.

Choir—ANIM’s choir is a powerful ensemble that performs regularly at important political and social events around Kabul, including official ceremonies for Afghanistan’s president. The choir also performed at Choir Fest Middle East in Dubai in March 2015, when they took home the award for Best Regional Choir.

Spotlight on The Asia Foundation – Supporting Education for Afghans

As part of its mission to improve lives across the diverse regions of a dynamic and rapidly developing Asia, The Asia Foundation works hard to improve the quality of local education and expand access to educational opportunities in all areas where it operates. In Afghanistan, The Asia Foundation works closely with local NGO partners, as well as all levels of the formal education system, to strengthen all areas of Afghanistan’s education system, including student enrolment and achievement, teaching quality, curriculum development, and school infrastructure.

The educational programs supported by The Asia Foundation—all of which are carefully aligned with the strategies and priorities of Afghanistan’s ministries of Education and Higher Education—focus on boosting primary school literacy, improving teacher training, facilitating civil society and government agency participation in the educational sector, as well as developing employment-oriented educational initiatives. Read on to learn more about some of The Asia Foundation’s most recent work in the world of Afghan education.

Programs to enhance numeracy and literacy skills

school childrenBooks for Asia—Established nearly 15 years ago, the foundation’s Books for Asia program has delivered millions of books and educational materials to provincial schools, universities, public libraries, NGOs, and government ministries in all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces. One of the Books for Asia program’s biggest achievements in Afghanistan has been the distribution of a special collection of traditional Afghan folktales to schools across the country. Published by Hoopee Books, the collection was written in English, Pashto, and Dari. Since 2012, more than 1.2 million of these books have been donated to nearly 600 schools.

Primary school programs—Children who learn literacy and numeracy skills at a young age are much more likely to go on to pursue higher education. This is the reason why The Asia Foundation supports a number of local organizations, such as the Afghanistan Center at Kabul University (ACKU) and the IT company Liwal, Ltd., in building a strong culture of reading for primary school children in Afghanistan. Through initiatives such as increased library access and the publication of easy-to-read books, these partners are working to make reading easy and fun for young Afghan students, as well as their parents and adult family members. Liwal, Ltd. is also developing an innovative new mobile app for primary school literacy in collaboration with The Asia Foundation. The app, which will initially be available to 2,000 Kabul children from grades one to three, will help them to read books in Dari and Pashto.

Libraries—The Afghanistan Center at Kabul University (ACKU), the only library in Afghanistan to house a comprehensive collection of research materials, has been visited by over 61,000 users since 2015. In addition to providing technical support and fiduciary oversight to ACKU, The Asia Foundation supports the Center’s Afghanistan Box Library Extension program (ABLE). Created in an effort to help provide remote communities with much-needed educational materials, ABLE creates new “box libraries” (which are basically conveniently located depositories of books) in isolated areas, and expands the collections of existing libraries. In the past year alone, 17 new box libraries have been created and more than 20,000 books and learning materials have been sent to libraries.

Programs for curriculum development

Given the significant percentage of students who do not pass the math and science sections of Afghanistan’s national public university entrance exam, known as the Kankor exam, it is clear that the math and science curriculum in Afghanistan’s public school system is in need of improvement. To this end, The Asia Foundation has formed a close partnership with the General Directorate of Science and Education Technology, the Ministry of Education department that oversees both curriculum development and teacher training.

Together with the Directorate, The Asia Foundation is supporting the training of 900 math and science teachers, as well as 65 lab technicians, in Badakhshan, Kandahar, and Khost. The goal is not only to create a more relevant and comprehensive curriculum, but to ensure that the teachers themselves are more comfortable with the material and thus better able to support their students. Up-to-date equipment can also make a big difference in students’ learning experience. The Asia Foundation has helped to distribute 300 pieces of laboratory equipment to 54 of those schools involved in the curriculum development program.

Programs for organizational capacity building

While Afghan-led programming makes the most sense for an effective Afghan school system, many educational organizations that would normally take the lead in this area lack the capacity, resources, or organizational governance to do so. To help address this discrepancy, The Asia Foundation conducts an organizational capacity development assessment—a participatory tool that provides a complete overview of an organization—for each of its local education partners in order to evaluate organizational stability and sustainability. When deficiencies or challenges are identified, the foundation provides training sessions to help the organization bridge the gap. Sessions can cover topics such as human resources, financial sustainability, strategic planning, and finance and administration. The overall goal is to help local organizations build their own effective governance structures and reduce dependence on funding from international donors.