Tajik educators seek expertise in teaching reading from STEL faculty
Education professionals from Tajikistan visited professors and students in Radford University’s School of Teacher Education and Leadership (STEL) Friday, Jan. 24 to learn more about STEL's practices in teaching primary grade reading.
The educators were nearing the final stages of a three-week educational journey throughout Virginia and Washington, D.C. when they arrived on the RU campus. The excursion has taken the 10-person delegation to informational meetings, seminars and presentations with professional peers in academic, government and non-profit sectors.
"The reason they are here is because USAID has done an extensive study in literacy issues in central Asian countries and they discovered that out of all the different countries, Tajikistan is the one that is lower in the standards of primary grade reading," explained Mitra Nafiissan-Rash, program director at Legacy International, which organized the trip. "This is basically grades from one to four, children who are 6 to 10 years old."
Legacy International is a non-profit educational and training organization based in Bedford. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), through its Community Connections program, funded the trip and selected the 10 Tajik educators to visit Virginia.
In addition to RU, the group met with professionals with the International Reading Association, Reading is Fundamental, Save the Children and the Virginia Department of Education. The Tajik teachers have also met with teachers in Roanoke elementary schools and with professionals at the Roanoke City Public Library.
"Our main goal is to learn the U.S. experience in teaching reading," Mukhidin Ziyoev, a Tajik educator and freelance consultant for the Ministry of Education in Vardoz, Tajikistan said through interpreter, Shokhin Asadov.
During the day-long visit to RU, the visitors from Tajikistan heard presentations from STEL professors on a variety of education topics.
Jennifer Jones, a member of STEL's literacy faculty, led off the morning with a presentation about effective early literacy instruction. Assistant Professor Brooke Blanks followed with a talk concerning “effective instruction for all learners.”
Assistant Professor of Music Trish Winter spoke about music therapy for motivation and ritual, and STEL Associate Professor Dana Rose talked about promoting high-quality literacy practices in a teacher education program.
Later in the day, the Tajik educators participated in a discussion panel with students enrolled in RU’s elementary and special education teacher preparation programs.
The visit concluded with a question-and-answer session between the Takij educators and RU students and professors.
“Presenting to this group provides an opportunity for STEL teacher educators to model the same commitment to life-long learning that we ask of our students,” said STEL instructor Darren Minarik. “The professors who participated in this event shared with me how it enriched them as teacher educators, hearing about the challenges that Tajik educators face and just being part of the cultural exchange. We also involved our students in presentations, giving them an opportunity to share how RU prepares them to be highly effective educators.”
With support from Legacy International, Minarik traveled to Tajikistan and several of their neighboring countries two years ago to share his knowledge of special education strategies and the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in school and community settings.
Ziyoev said he had attended previous reading education sessions when American educators had visited Tajikistan, but learned much more through his visit to Virginia and RU. “Visiting the United States and the institutions and the university and seeing for ourselves and hearing about the process and how it is organized, it became more clear,” he said.
Before going back to Tajikistan, the educators must complete an action plan to describe how they will implement their findings in their own education programs. "We have noticed some similarities in our work, and we hope to use all we have learned in our future activities," said Tajik primary grade teacher Irina Vafaeva, through Asadov.
Nafissian-Rash said one reason RU was selected to host the educators was the university’s commitment and dedication to previous programs with Legacy International.
"The last time I brought a group here to Radford University was to introduce them (the group) to disability issues and how teaching and learning does not stop for people who have disabilities," Nafissian-Rash said. "That group was from Russian and they learned a lot about disability rights and issues that have been in discussion in this country. The Radford visit was a big part of it."
Nafissian-Rash continued: “I want to express my thanks to Radford University because every time we come here they don’t do a little for us; they do a lot for us. They come up with panel presentations. They involve many of their professors, and they have just given to us very generously with lots of time.”
Vafaeva agreed. “I’ve had the most positive experience,” she said. “We’re so thankful for such a warm welcome.”
Minarik said RU greatly benefits for the meetings and the exchange of ideas with the Tajik educators.
“There is a group of Tajik educators using what they learned at Radford University to improve early literacy in their own education system,” Minarik said. “It is our hope that these partnerships will continue to create more opportunities for our professors and students to share their knowledge with others around the world.”