UMass, HCC team up to help Pakistan educators emulate community college model

  • Chamzeb Chan, left, Muddassir Ahmed Ahmed and Salman Mirza, educators from Pakistan, cheer as the bridge they built holds the most amount of books. Behind them is Naeem Yaqoob. Gazette Staff/ CAROL LOLLIS

  • Salman Mirza and Adeel Ahmad Ghauri,  educators from Pakistan, visited the region for six weeks this fall to learn about the American community college system. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Naeem Yaqoob and Sandrez Nisar participate in a team-based assignment where they build a bridge out of newspapers and see which bridge holds the most weight. They were part of a group of educators who visited the region for six weeks this fall to learn about the American community college system. Gazette Staff/ CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chamzeb Chan, left, Muddassir Ahmed Ahmed and Salman Mirza, educators from Pakistan here for six weeks to learn about the American community college system, participate in a team-based assignment where they build a bridge out of newspapers and see which bridge ted holds the most weight. Gazette Staff/CAROL LOLLIS

For the Gazette
Monday, December 05, 2016

HOLYOKE — In Pakistan’s third-largest city, students at the Karachi Tools, Dies & Moulds Centre learn how to operate machinery in what’s called a “teaching factory.”

It’s a pragmatic approach to technical education, academics head Muddasir Ahmed says, but memorizing the properties of various industrial materials, the details of regulatory frameworks and other nitty-gritty details is simply too narrow an approach to learning.

So he plans to change that.

“It’s not only the contents of the subject,” Ahmed said. “The goal of education is to make a human a human.”

Ahmed has a radical approach to learning compared to the status quo cut-and-dry career-driven approach that’s existed in Pakistan for some time. But times are changing in the South Asian country home to some 202 million as the government has planned to implement something closer to the American community college model.

That’s why 19 Pakistani educators and administrators spent six weeks in the Valley earlier this fall – to work with mentors at Holyoke Community College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst who could help make their visions for new educational endeavors a reality.

The group was the third of four cohorts in the Community College Administrator Program for Pakistan set to visit western Massachusetts. The iniative was put together by the nonprofit Institute for Training and Development in Amherst with funding from a grant from the U.S. State Department.

“We’re designing a system in our colleges to further improve the quality of training of our students,” said participant Noor Ul Qamar.

Ahmad Salman Mirza, deputy director of the National Vocational and Technical Training Commission, said that a large portion of Pakistani youth are not employed or not in school. The government aims to get them involved in fruitful activities, motivate them and help them get jobs in Pakistan and across the globe.

That’s why he’s tasked with helping establish 15 new community colleges in the country, he said.

The goal, said IBA Community College Khairpur Principal Zubair Mugbar, includes bolstering English language programs, further strengthening the connections between Pakinstan’s largest industry of textiles and the education system and improve connections between general education and specialized technical education.

For his part, Ahmed aims to create a student development center, implement a cross-subject course model and improve and student soft-skills training at his school.

He was paired up with mentor Vivian Ostrowski, director of HCC’s Gateway to College program. She offered him insights from her experience leading the school’s high school dual enrollment program and also helped connect him with other locals who have specific expertise.

One of Ahmed’s outings was to the Greenfield Community College Development Center. He said he was impressed by the structure there, which provided students with personal, professional and educational development opportunities. There students are welcome to discuss particular academics problems in a comfortable environment, he said.

“We don’t have a structured department,” he said. “We do it piecemeal.”

But what really struck Ahmed was HCC’s Learning Communities program – team-taught, interdisciplinary courses that look at a specific theme through different academic lenses. This is something he wants to bring back to Karachi.

“They are doing marvelous things,” he said.

Ahmed is a man who sees connections. He’s clearly a man of science and numbers, having been trained as a mechanical engineer, but he’s also interested in hypnosis, mindfulness and has began studying neurolinguistic programming, a personal development approach that focuses on self-awareness and effective communication.

“It has given me a lot of different tastes, a lot of different aspects to learning,” he said.

This is what he sees for the teaching factory: an implementation of the HCC Learning Communities model but applied to technical education.

“What I’m picturing is a single class, three teachers are standing there: one is teaching manufacturing process, one is teaching materials and one is teaching inspections,” he said in a mentoring session with Ostrowski. “These should be integrated. Learning is all about making connections.”

After graduating, students are left to connect these different aspects of their field in the factory. Ahmed figures why not just introduce them together in the first place?

Claire Novotny, assistant project coordinator for the Pakistan project at HCC, said the federal government’s aim is a diplomatic one, to improve the global image of American society. But for her and others involved in the program, it offers something greater.

“We’re giving best practices, but at the same time we’re getting cross-cultural interaction that is going to change both of our outlooks drastically,” she said.

Chris Lindahl can be reached at clindahl@gazettenet.com