Spotlight on the Upcoming Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub

The Bayat Foundation has spent a great deal of time in recent months focusing on COVID-19 relief efforts. However, it has not lost sight of its other ambitious projects planned for the post-pandemic future. Among these is the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub, an exciting new initiative that aims to advance science and technology education in Afghanistan. Read on to learn more.

What is the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub?

The Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub is a classroom for the 21st century located on the grounds of Michelle Bayat High School in Kabul. Currently under construction—the project was launched at a special groundbreaking ceremony on October 10, 2020—the Hub will serve as a state-of-the-art education center that will provide students with an inventive, practical, and accessible learning environment.

What will be the focus of the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub?

The Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub will offer a curriculum focusing on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. The broad goal of the Hub’s educational programs is to help students understand and maximize the potential of today’s technology and—at the same time—to think creatively about the role that technology can play in solving the problems of the future. In order to encourage critical thinking, inventiveness, and leadership development, the Hub will immerse students in the curriculum using the latest app-based learning initiatives. For example, coding skills will be taught via robotic balls, drones, and physical and virtual coding blocks.

Why is STEM education important?

We are currently living in an age of constant scientific discovery and technological transformation. In order for people and countries alike to keep up with the pace of change, stay competitive in a global economy, make valuable contributions to the future of society, and address our planet’s most pressing challenges, STEM literacy is absolutely essential. Through a STEM education, young people can develop vital skills such as critical and creative thinking, gathering and evaluating evidence, and information-based problem solving and decision-making that will help them—as well as the organizations and countries that they will eventually represent—to succeed in a complex world.

How does the Hub advance the Bayat Foundation’s mission?

Education has always been one of the central pillars of the Bayat Foundation’s mission, which is to nourish the lives of all Afghans. Throughout Afghanistan’s history, a significant portion of the population has lacked access to any kind of formal education. This not only impacts individuals and families, many of whom have difficulty improving their circumstances due to a lack of education, but also the country itself, which has been deprived of societal, business, and government leaders.

In response to this challenging education gap, the Bayat Foundation has worked hard to develop, implement, and support initiatives that aim to provide Afghans with valuable learning opportunities. The foundation’s efforts in this area focus on two important groups: vulnerable and at-risk Afghans, such as orphaned children and refugees who lack literacy skills; and post-secondary students, who need an enhanced standard of learning in order to help Afghanistan to compete on the world stage. In recent years, the Bayat Foundation has been involved with the launch of the Faryab Orphanage and Learning Center in Maimana Province and has provided support for the reconstruction of the American University of Afghanistan.

What other organizations are involved in developing the Hub?

The following organizations are partnering with the Bayat Foundation on the construction and operation of the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub:

The Afghan Red Crescent Society—The Michelle Bayat High School, which will house the new Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub, is located in Kabul on the grounds of the Afghan Red Crescent Society (the acting managing director and the secretary general of the society both participated in the October 10 groundbreaking ceremony for the Bayat Foundation Innovation Hub alongside the Bayat Foundation’s chairman, Ehsan Bayat). The Afghan affiliate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Afghan Red Crescent Society has conducted wide-ranging humanitarian and relief work throughout Afghanistan since the 1930s.

MATTER—A global nonprofit organization, MATTER envisions a world in which every person is able to lead a full and healthy life. A movement of people, businesses, and organizations, MATTER is dedicated to overcoming one of our biggest contemporary challenges: a lack of access to healthcare, education, and other resources that are necessary to enable people to lead healthy and fulfilled lives.

Teach for Afghanistan—For many years, one of the main barriers to improving education in Afghanistan has been a lack of qualified teachers. Teach for Afghanistan works to address this problem by placing the country’s most promising university graduates in two-year teaching positions at Afghan schools. To date, over 200 university graduates—who teach at 69 schools—have helped more than 60,000 young students.

A Look at the Unique Plant Life in Afghanistan

Although Afghanistan is a dry country that primarily encompasses arid desert and rugged mountain ranges, it is home to an incredibly diverse array of plant life. In fact, according to some botanists, when it comes to plants and vegetation, Afghanistan is one of the world’s most important centers of biodiversity. Read on to learn some fascinating facts about Afghanistan’s surprisingly rich and unique plant life.

Afghanistan has more species of flowering plants than Central Europe.

It would be easy to assume that a region like central Europe, with its damp climate so favorable to plant growth, would have a wider variety of flowering plants than arid Afghanistan. Interestingly, however, the opposite is true. Afghanistan has far more species and sub-species of flowering plants than central Europe. Approximately 4,500 distinct flowering plants have been identified in Afghanistan, and botanists believe that there are many more still to be found and named. Afghan flowering plants encompass more than 600 species within the legume/pea family; 500 species in the daisy family, including nearly 150 different types of thistle; and 205 species in the mint family.

Nearly one-third of Afghanistan’s flowering plants are not found anywhere else.

Afghanistan’s flowering plant life is not only exceptionally diverse, but it’s also unique. Approximately 30% of all of the country’s flowering plants are endemic to Afghanistan, meaning that they don’t grow anywhere else in the world. (In contrast, the UK—another region with a damp climate that is ideally suited to plant growth—only has about 1,700 species of flowering plants, and a mere handful of these are endemic.)

Afghanistan’s valleys helped to shape its floral biodiversity.

Afghanistan’s extraordinary floral biodiversity owes a great deal to the country’s distinctive landscape, particularly the fertile valleys that lie in between its soaring mountains. Over the course of millions of years, these valleys served as a refuge for plants, helping to preserve and protect floral life through a series of global ice ages that wrought destruction elsewhere (to take the UK as an example once again, that region was wiped relatively clean of species with each successive Ice Age due to the area’s fairly flat topography). Furthermore, because the valleys are isolated from one another, many new species were able to evolve in the different areas, each specially adapted to the highly specific local conditions.

Foraging for plants plays an important role in rural Afghanistan.

Given the rich diversity of plants found in Afghanistan, it’s hardly surprising that plant foraging is an important activity in the country, particularly in rural and remote areas. For many Afghans living in rural communities, foraged plants can provide an important source of food, medicine, and sometimes income (foragers often sell their finds by the roadside or from carts in urban areas). The following are some commonly foraged plants:

Rhubarb—Known as chukri or rawash in Afghanistan, wild rhubarb is the Afghan forage plant that is most recognizable to people in the west, particularly northern Europeans. In Afghanistan, wild rhubarb is a springtime delight that is usually an ingredient in salads, or simply sprinkled with salt and eaten raw. Since rhubarb is rich in key nutrients (such as calcium, manganese, potassium, and vitamins C and K), it is an important type of food for rural Afghans, particularly during drought years when other crops are more scarce.

Liquorice root—A member of the legume/pea family, liquorice is known for its pale purple flowers and sharp, distinctive flavor. Foragers dig up liquorice roots and boil them to make a tea, a common treatment for stomachaches. Dried liquorice roots are also an important Afghan export typically destined for markets in India and the Emirates.

Caraway—Zira-ye Kohi, as it is known in Afghanistan, is a delicious spice that is from the carrot family. It is frequently used in Afghan cuisine, especially as an addition to rice dishes.

Afghanistan is one of eight regions in the world where crops were first grown.

The richness and diversity of Afghanistan’s wild plants is also closely related to the country’s history of plant domestication. According to scholars, Afghanistan is part of the “Vavilov Centers,” a term used to describe the regions of the world—eight in total—where humans began domesticating plant crops. In order for this process of domestication to be successful, it is important for early growers to have ready access to each crop’s wild relatives. The fact that wild plants such as wheat, peas, and lentils existed so plentifully in Afghanistan thousands of years ago is what allowed their eventual domestication to take place.

A groundbreaking book on Afghanistan’s plants was recently published.

For those interested in the native plants of Afghanistan, more information can be found in the groundbreaking 2010 book Field Guide Afghanistan: Flora and Vegetation. The culmination of decades of work by a team of Afghan, German, and British biologists and scholars, the book is highly detailed, but easily accessible to non-specialists. Written in Dari and English, the book is used at many schools, universities, and research institutes throughout Afghanistan.

A Look at the New Program Helping Boost Literacy in Afghanistan

According to 2018 data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 12 million people in Afghanistan—roughly one-third of the country’s entire population—lack basic literacy skills. This figure has been dropping over the last decade thanks to considerable efforts by government entities and NGOs. However, it’s clear that there is still a great deal of work to be done when it comes to improving literacy rates in Afghanistan.

One new initiative determined to tackle this challenge head-on is the Better Education System for Afghanistan’s Future (BESAF) project. A basic general literacy program geared towards some of Afghanistan’s most marginalized groups and communities, the BESAF project hopes to boost literacy levels for thousands of Afghans. Read on to learn more.

What is the BESAF project?

The Better Education System for Afghanistan’s Future project is a two-year program that will provide some 15,000 youth and adult learners around the country with courses in basic general literacy.

Taking place in 2021 and 2022, these courses have the immediate objective of increasing fundamental literacy skills among some of Afghanistan’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable people, including youth and adults in remote communities.

A broader goal of the BESAF project is to increase demand for and facilitate access to adult education, in order to better support Afghans who were unable to receive formal education during Afghanistan’s conflict years.

What is unique about the BESAF project?

One element that distinguishes the BESAF project from other literacy-building initiatives is that is places as much emphasis on teaching the teachers as it does on teaching the learners. One of the biggest challenges faced by education in general in Afghanistan is a lack of qualified teachers. In far too many learning situations, teachers are barely more educated or experienced than their students. The organizers of the BESAF project therefore made it a priority to ensure that their literacy courses would be taught by qualified, competent trainers.

To this end, the BESAF project began in late 2020 with a 10-day “training of trainers” workshop. A total of 124 master trainers—including program implementation managers, monitors, and district literacy managers —participated in the workshop.

They learned pragmatic tools and strategies for helping train and guide facilitators to effectively deliver literacy classes. The next step will, in turn, involve these master trainers providing further training to the hundreds of literacy facilitators who will be directly teaching and supporting BESAF learners.

Who is involved in the BESAF project?

Partners collaborating on the BESAF project include:

The UNESCO Office in Kabul

Re-opened in 2002, the UNESCO Office in Kabul has been working for nearly two decades to help the government of Afghanistan build and grow its educational, cultural, informational, and scientific capacity. The Office’s broad range of programs are frequently operated in collaboration with a diverse array of local and international partners and stakeholders.

The goal is to enrich the lives of Afghan citizens, create a stronger future for the country, and build peace within and beyond Afghanistan’s borders. The UNESCO Office in Kabul, together with the Afghan Ministry of Education, is responsible for implementing the BESAF project.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

The primary funder of the BESAF project, Sida is the Swedish government’s agency for development cooperation. It works with a wide range of societal partners, including public and private sector agencies, civil society organizations, and research institutions.

Sida supports and carries out sustainable development initiatives in dozens of countries around the world. The agency’s broad goal is to help create conditions that will allow people experiencing poverty and oppression to improve their lives and livelihoods.

Why is the BESAF project important?

As the UNESCO Office in Kabul explains, education is the tool with which people can build the knowledge, skills, and competencies they need to cope with the many complex challenges of contemporary life. Literacy is the cornerstone of education.

In other words, before people can better themselves and their communities, before they can benefit from more specialized education, they must first become literate. Programs like the BESAF project are therefore critically important in that they help create the foundation on which all future learning and personal development can rest.

What other educational initiatives does UNESCO support in Afghanistan?

The BESAF project is just one way in which UNESCO supports education in Afghanistan. In recent years, the UNESCO Office in Kabul has worked closely with Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education to develop plans, policies, and tools for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). This program helps provide unemployed or underemployed adults with targeted training.

UNESCO has also played an instrumental role in helping Afghanistan create its third National Education Strategic Plan. The ambitious policy document lays out a comprehensive and cohesive vision for improving the state of education throughout the country.