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Appalachian receives $397,713 grant to continue Pakistani schools exchange program

BOONE—Appalachian State University has received a third grant totaling $397,713 from the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, to continue an exchange project between public schools in Watauga County and Taxila, Pakistan.

View larger imageRussell Hiatt, a teacher at Hardin Park School, is pictured with three Pakistani students. Hiatt traveled to Pakistan in spring 2012 as part of an educational and cultural exchange sponsored by Appalachian State University and funded by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. (Photo by Nasir Jamal, HITEC)View larger imageStudents from Heavy Industries Taxila Educational City (HITEC) are pictured in their evening school uniform. (Photo by Nasir Jamal, HITEC)

The project will be directed by Dr. Jesse Lutabingwa, associate vice chancellor for international education and development, and Dr. Arshad Bashir, a Fulbright doctoral graduate from the educational leadership program in Appalachian’s Reich College of Education. A native of Pakistan, Bashir previously taught in Taxila and is now assistant director of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan.

The project continues an effort initially begun by Bashir in 2010 as an online collaboration between Heavy Industries Taxila Educational City (HITEC) and Watauga County Schools. So far, 70 students and educators, 44 Pakistanis and 26 Americans, have traveled to Pakistan or the United States.

Appalachian is the only U.S. institution to receive funding from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad for the cultural exchange that helps bridge the gap between the U.S. and Pakistani cultures through educational and cultural exchanges.

Thirty students and educators from HITEC schools in Taxila, Pakistan, will visit the U.S. in October for a three-week exchange program at Watauga High School, Hardin Park Elementary School or Green Valley Elementary School. They will visit Washington, D.C., at the end of the visit. While at Appalachian, the Pakistani teachers will receive support on ways to use technology in their classrooms.

In January and February 2015, a group of 23 educators from Watauga County Schools and Appalachian State University will travel to Pakistan to participate in a two-week exchange visit at HITEC.

“This project has achieved and exceeded the goals and objectives established at the outset,” Lutabingwa said. “It has been a great tool to improve perception of people living in the two countries. There is no best way of quantitatively measuring the impact of what has been achieved through the project. However, one thing that is clear is that the people who have participated in this project, especially the young students, will never be the same.”

“This project is a small pebble dropped into a very large ocean. The hope is that this tiny pebble will generate large ripples of peace and mutual understanding between American and Pakistani people,” Lutabingwa said.

A student from Watauga County Schools who traveled with the Pakistani group to Washington, D.C., during a previous visit spoke of the impact of the exchange. “When I heard about the visitors from Pakistan coming to our school I thought they were coming from a violent place because that is what I saw on television on the news. I did not think their country would be very beautiful like ours and I thought that everyone in Pakistan was very poor,” she said. “Once I met Ali and the other Pakistan students at our very first meeting, I realized they are funny, friendly, caring, smart, and so much like me and my friends. I also learned that their families are just like mine. I have made friends for life with the students from Pakistan. This experience has also made me want to travel the world and meet people from all over the world.”

The new project will have a focus on special education. Educators at HITEC have identified special education as a need and priority for their schools since there is a population of students with educational, physical and social/emotional problems at their schools. The teachers there are not trained in identifying disabilities nor are they aware of the range of disabilities and appropriate interventions to address them, according to Lutabingwa. He said there is a need for intensive early intervention, professional development, parent education, and an implementation plan for teaching students with disabilities at HITEC and HIT.

Mahgul, one of the HITEC students who visited the U.S. in October 2013, made the following observation in her final reflection: “Their people (Americans) with disabilities have an opportunity to get an education. From this, I started to question why is it that in Pakistan our disabled people do not have the opportunity to get education.”

Watauga County Schools’ expertise in special education will be used to launch HITEC’s own special education program. The focal point for the program will be to develop the capacity of HITEC educators to implement special education at their schools.

“The special education department of Watauga County Schools has a well-developed special education program that is meeting the needs of students in our county. The department has the reputation across the state as a system that is innovative in addressing the needs of their exceptional student population,” said Barbara Linnville, a behavior specialist with Watauga County Schools. “We have a comprehensive program that provides education to students who are the most severely challenged to those who need minimal assistance. Our goal will be to empower the HITEC team to be able to provide staff development, develop goals and plans; have resources to provide appropriate interventions; and plan parent education and engagement programs.”

For more information, contact Lutabingwa in the Office of International Education and Development at 828- 262-2046 or