As the global community faced unforeseen challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, schools and universities were required to quickly implement remote learning in order to maintain social distancing and other Covid-19 safety protocols.

Seven education professionals living in the United States and Tajikistan came together as part of the Tajikistan Entrepreneurship Development team, and initiated a project focused on building a sustainable, knowledge-sharing bridge. Called the University of Central Asia (UCA) Knowledge Share Project, its objective was to equip education professionals with best practices and resources to implement distance learning successfully. 

The team is an arm of the Aga Khan Economic Planning Board (AKEPB) for USA and Tajikistan, with the primary goal of sharing knowledge in the fields of entrepreneurship, employment creation, and training. 

Project managers Samir Panjwani and Naaila Hossain focused their efforts on creating a platform to share best practices for virtual learning during the pandemic. 

“I got inspiration for this project by seeing an opportunity to create a knowledge-sharing bridge as UCA was transitioning to distance learning,” said Samir. “The first step was to clearly identify the needs and build a team that could work together and align with our goals.” 

“We are lucky to be in a time when we can use technology to engage with and learn from one another... Every day, our world is changing and with initiatives like this, we are able to continuously learn from each other’s experiences,” remarked Naaila. 

The team spent five months collaborating with faculty and staff at UCA while battling the nine-hour time difference. 

“The project managers spent so much time talking to the UCA faculty members and us. They truly created a bridge for us and understood and adopted new and creative ideas,” said Naureen Madhani, PhD, Associate Director of Faculty Development at Columbia University, and an education professional on the team. “We are all in the same boat during a pandemic, so the more bridges we can build, the better.” 

Minaz Fazal, PhD, Assistant Professor at the College of Arts and Sciences at New York Institute of Technology, also served as an education professional on the team. 

“I noticed on the day we were doing this co-creation, not only were UCA faculty members present, but administrators were present as well. Everyone was excited and wanted to be fully engaged — and for me, that was a big moment,” said Minaz.

Dilovar Butabekov, Director of the School of Professional and Continuing Education at UCA shared his perspective: “For our school, this was one of the first experiences in providing online professional development for our instructors from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Following this, we were able to expand our online courses’ design and training portfolio.” 

While implementing a virtual workshop to share best practices for virtual learning, the UCA Knowledge Share Project identified and implemented pedagogical best practices. 

“We were careful in making sure we do not overstate or impose our contextual practices with the practices of any other country,” Minaz explained. “Culture really plays a big role in education. What works in one context and one culture cannot always be expanded to all cultures.”

The UCA Knowledge Share Project led to the creation of a new course, Dilovar said. Digital Teacher is a course which has proven to be a timely product of this project, and is becoming popular by increasing applications from the public schools due to the ongoing pandemic. It helped the school to populate its newly established Learning Management System, and some instructors received a Certificate of Excellence from UCA.

The UCA Knowledge Share Project has been a positive impact. not only on the education professionals of both countries, but also on the quality of education and learning for current and future students.