LEGO Robotics, English Upgrading and Math Numeracy programmes delivered in Tajikistan

01 March 2018

Three Canadian volunteers - Sobia Makhani, Ashna Suchak, and Kais Khimji – delivered programmes for the Aga Khan Education Service, Tajikistan (AKES, Tj) from June to August 2017. Sobia delivered the first junior LEGO robotics programme in the region, Ashna ran the schools summer English upgrading programme and Kais taught Math numeracy.

Sobia Makhani has been running the junior LEGO robotics programme in the Toronto, Canada for the Ismaili and wider communities for the past 3 years. Her passion and competence in this field led to her being asked to train teachers from Tajikistan and the Kyrgyz Republic and deliver a similar programme at the Aga Khan Lycee (Khorog), both for AKES and Government school teachers. The Junior First League Robotics is a 9-week programme that teams up young students and adult coaches to explore real-world issues, such as food safety, recycling, and energy-related topics. During the course, students learn about teamwork and the wonders of science and technology, thereby strengthening skills in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in a fun and engaging way. 
LEGO designs the programme and toolkits which are implemented by teachers in their classrooms. Prior to the launch of this course, Sobia organized an 11-day faculty training session for 30 teachers, as well as a practicum for 32 students. Despite the language barriers, she found the teachers very welcoming and appreciated their willingness to learn. “It was a life-changing and really fulfilling experience,” says Sobia. The Junior LEGO Robotics course is now being run successfully as an after-school programme at the Aga Khan Lycée in Khorog, at the Aga Khan School, Osh in the Kyrgyz Republic, as well as at local government schools in the Badakhshan region.
Ashna Suchak is an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor and led the literacy programme for students in grades 8-10 at the Aga Khan Lycée in Khorog. In addition to teaching the course, she designed the admissions tests for the programme. Although the curriculum framework was prepared by Seneca College (Canada), Ashna incorporated literature study and innovative, hands-on learning activities using the arts to make her classes more engaging. Throughout her TKN assignment, she was amazed at the students’ willingness to learn. Speaking about her experience, she said: “I gained skills such as adapting to a new environment, becoming resilient and culturally aware, as well as learning time management.” Ashna found this experience extremely fulfilling, knowing that she was able to make a meaningful impact in developing a higher level of English proficiency among her students.
Kais Khimji taught a 6-week numeracy course to students in grades 11 and 12. Although he does not have an advanced academic background in Math, he has always enjoyed the subject as he believes numbers surpass the boundaries of language. His Tajikistan assignment was very uplifting - the scenery, the kindness of the people and, most importantly, the enthusiasm of the students to learn. Kais was given a set curriculum but also had to do a lot of improvisation and lesson planning. Despite the language barrier that sometimes hindered his ability to determine if students were understanding concepts, his students managed to achieve a 30% improvement in their test scores. It was an empowering experience for him and he was inspired by the children’s thirst for knowledge.
AKES (Tj) Regional Head of Education, Aziz Batada, says that “teachers and students who participated in last summer’s robotics and upgrading programmes have commented on their wonderful learning experiences, with many teachers developing new approaches to their own teaching practice. Students were motivated to further develop their English language proficiency and Math problem-solving competencies, resulting in increased self-efficacy when applying to English speaking Universities in the region, including the University of Central Asia and Aga Khan University.”
Aziz further states that “Volunteer support is invaluable in helping AKES in Central Asia take these initial steps towards the larger objective of promoting STEM education and English language proficiency, ensuring that our children are developing 21st century competencies, which include critical thinking, innovation, creativity and an integrated approach to problem-solving – all skill sets much needed for the ongoing development of the region!”

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