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Global Connections Projects Link Youth Worldwide

Global Connections Projects Link Youth Worldwide via Internet

People cannot solve problems if they are not communicating with each other, says a U.S. congressman who supports programs that use the Internet to connect students worldwide.

It is important to know what other people's problems are, Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York told a group of international educators visiting the U.S. Capitol November 14, "because you can't solve problems if you're not talking to each other."

The educators are international project directors participating in "Speaking the Same Language: Youth Diplomats Online Together," an International Education Week workshop going on in Washington November 14-17, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State's Global Connections and Exchange Program and coordinated by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Project directors running Internet and computer technology programs in schools and at Internet Learning Centers (ILCs) often put their students in contact with students in U.S. classrooms using Wikispaces, a free online resource for students and teachers to create interactive Web pages. A goal of the global project is to reinforce English-language skills abroad, said Mumtaza A. Abdurazzakova, a program manager in Afghanistan.

"The Internet is English, and students need English to use computers," said Abdurazzakova, who coordinated a similar program in Uzbekistan for eight years. Since boys and girls attend separate schools in Afghanistan, Abdurazzakova also has used the Global Connections program to set up gender-based after-school clubs for students and English clubs to develop further conversational and functional English-language skills.

Most Global Connections programs are coordinated by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including U.S.-based Relief International, IREX (International Research and Exchanges Board) and the global iEARN (International Education and Resource Network).

U.S. students participating in the Global Connections project in Oroville, Washington, also benefit from communicating with students worldwide, said U.S. secondary school teacher George Thornton, who was an exchange teacher in Tajikistan and hosted a Palestinian teacher in his home.

"The international exchange allows American students to learn to read between the lines, because not everyone knows English the way Americans do," Thornton told USINFO.

In some countries, such as Morocco, most boys and girls use the Internet on home computers, according to Moroccan Global Connections Coordinator Mourad Benali. In Bangladesh, nearly 100,000 children use computers and Internet technology at ILCs to communicate with each other and their teachers, since few of their families have computers, according to project director Nazrul Islam.

On the other hand, in Turkmenistan, where it is often difficult to work online because the state-owned dial-up connection is slow and frequently unavailable, teachers in ILCs download Web sites and print the screens for students to work on offline. When the teachers are able to get a connection, they post their students' responses so they can participate globally, said Mehri Karyagdyyeva, a program associate in the Washington office of IREX.

"My own life growing up in Turkmenistan was influenced by online exchange," Karyagdyyeva told USINFO.


In some countries, including Tajikistan and Afghanistan, there has been a particular focus on educating girls.

"Traditionally, girls would go home after school while boys might play games or sports with their friends," said Garth Willis, the American founder of the Alpine Fund, a small NGO based in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, that takes at-risk youth on hiking trips for education and adventure. "Now girls go to the Internet centers, where they use the computers to learn skills and to share career goals with American girls."

Willis, who worked in Tajikistan for several years as an educator and a project coordinator for Relief International, said the conversations girls have on the Internet help them understand that in order to achieve their career goals they need to create a path for themselves to higher education.

The informal social connections are creating a "mental path into the mind of a child," Willis said, and helping students understand the educational process, including getting into a university.

After getting permission from their parents, girls in Afghanistan are provided with transportation by the NGO to the ILCs, Abdurazzakova said.


Students with physical disabilities in Uzbekistan are able to communicate globally through the Online School for Disabled Students project, funded by the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan and the national youth movement "Kamolot." Anatoliy Kochnev, who coordinates the project through Global Connections in Uzbekistan, said in addition to other online programs, Uzbek students are able to listen to music and then compose their own. Plans are under way to make it possible for the students to share their compositions over the Internet, Kochnev told USINFO.

An ILC in Tajikistan is using computers to teach American Sign Language to deaf students, Willis said.

It is challenging to integrate speaking and deaf students, Willis said. "Interestingly, deaf kids call speaking kids 'noisy,' even though they can't hear them, because they [speaking kids] have so much online activity."

Global Connections project directors traveled from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and the West Bank to attend the Washington workshop.


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