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Appalachian Receives $266,197 Grant to Implement Exchange Program Between Watauga and Pakistani Schools

Aug. 24, 2012. Appalachian State University has received a $266,197 grant from the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to implement a one-year exchange project between three schools in Watauga County and three schools in Taxila, Pakistan.

The partner schools are Hardin Park Elementary, Green Valley Elementary School and Watauga High school, all in Watauga County, and the Heavy Industries Taxila Educational City (HITEC) Cambridge School, Junior High School for Boys and the College for Girls.

The project will be directed by Dr. Jesse Lutabingwa, associate vice chancellor for international education and development at Appalachian, and Arshad Bashir, a Fulbright doctoral student in the educational leadership program in Appalachian’s Reich College of Education. Bashir is from Pakistan and has taught at HITEC prior to coming to Appalachian.

The project is intended to bridge the gap between two cultures through educational and cultural exchanges supporting mutual respect between Americans and Pakistanis and encourage appreciation of other cultures. According to Lutabingwa, “International educational and professional exchanges play an important and vital part in public diplomacy particularly because face-to-face contact between peoples of different countries and cultures helps to diminish stereotypes and ultimately facilitates inter-cultural communication.”

“The idea of interacting face-to-face with teachers and young students from the USA is very exciting. A lot has been happening recently between our two nations that has affected the perceptions of young generations on both sides,” said retired Brig. Taj Iqbal, a HITEC administrator. “I see the U.S.-Pakistan educational and cultural exchange program as a great grooming and vision-oriented opportunity for my staff and students to acquire knowledge at its best. This will be a great opportunity to sow the seeds of mutual respect and confidence.”

The project is conceptually divided into three phases. Phase one will include preliminary discussions and exchanges using technology and will build upon a pilot online collaborative program started in 2010 between HITEC schools in Pakistan and North Carolina’s Watauga and Ashe county schools.

The pilot program was an initiative of Bashir and the Reich College of Education’s Public School Partnership directed by Dr. Linda McCalister. It allowed participants in North Carolina and Pakistan to exchange ideas, subject matter content and cultural artifacts.

According to Bashier, “The pilot program was aimed at deepening cultural ties and improving perceptions between Pakistan and the U.S. Participants are engaged in online collaborative activities for cultural exchange by using communicative technology in the form of digital photo and video sharing in addition to their participation in curriculum-based collaborative projects.” During the first phase of this project, North Carolina and HITEC schools will continue to collaborate and to learn from each other using the online environment.

In the second phase of the project, 12 students from HITEC will be selected to participate in a three-week exchange program Dec. 1-21 at Watauga High School, Hardin Park Elementary School or Green Valley Elementary School.

“Helping our students develop an appreciation for another culture and showing them the value for that culture will go a long way to helping our students more freely demonstrate acceptance and tolerance,” said Green Valley Elementary School Principal Phillip Griffin.

Hardin Park Elementary School Principal Mary Smalling echoed Griffin’s sentiments. “Only through communication can we learn to understand each other and work together to make the world a better place for everyone,” she said.

Three HITEC teachers and five administrators will accompany the Pakistani students to the U.S. In order to enhance the cultural learning experiences, all Pakistani visitors will be accommodated by host families in the local communities.

Prior to returning to Pakistan, the group will spend four days in Washington, D.C., and will be accompanied by six students and three teachers from the Watauga County Schools. Lutabingwa and Bashir also will accompany the group to Washington, D.C. While there, they will visit the White House, be hosted at the U.S. Department of State, and attend a reception hosted by the Pakistani Embassy.

During the third phase of the grant, six teachers and three administrators from participating schools in North Carolina, as well as three faculty/staff members from Appalachian, will travel to Pakistan from Feb. 23 to March 1, 2013, to participate in the exchange. Lutabingwa will lead the North Carolina group that travels to Pakistan.

“Although the technology-based collaboration has created a visible impact on educators and students in both the U.S. and Pakistan, there is no comparison to the face-to-face interaction or to first-hand experience of visiting each other’s countries,” said Lutabingwa. “None of the teachers and students in Pakistan who are engaged in the online collaboration has visited the United States and similarly, their partner U.S. students and teachers have never had the opportunity to visit Pakistan. Exchange visits will, therefore, strengthen the developing relationship between educational institutions and the communities in both countries.”

“One key concept to 21st-century learning is the inclusion of a global mindset for our students,” said Watauga High School Assistant Principal Craig Wright. “This program includes collaboration with another country, building of friendships, global expansions of student and staff networking opportunities, and in depth discussions in the classrooms.”

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