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WSU Extension Wins $12 Million Grant

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University Extension’s Center to Bridge the Digital Divide has won a five-year, $12 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to help rebuild higher education in war-torn Afghanistan.

Maria Beebe, director of CBDD’s global initiatives, began working with USAID in April 2005 on the Afghan eQuality Alliances project. The grant commences with an initial obligation of $3 million this fiscal year.

“The USAID award is evidence of the growing leadership of WSU Extension in connecting with the world and connecting the world to WSU,” said CBDD Director Bill Gillis.

The new funding comes on the heels of a resounding success in developing higher education alliances in Africa. Beebe also led that project, known as NetTel, which initially involved working with seven African universities and three U.S. universities to develop content and delivery systems for online learning.

The African project was so successful that the federal government specifically asked that Beebe, a former USAID contractor, pilot the idea in Afghanistan. Now she, along with Deputy Director Ryan Sain and Hila Hanif, who is based in Kabul, is working to build similar alliances in Afghanistan. Their primary partner currently is Kabul University, headed by President Ashraf Ghani, but they work with Kabul Medical University, Kabul Education University, Kabul Polytechnic, American University of Afghanistan and 14 other higher education institutions in the provinces.

The Afghan eQuality Alliances, all of which are led by Afghans, focus on a variety of different areas that cut across academic disciplines and universities. They include building a digital library that can be shared with the other 19 universities in Afghanistan; developing an e-Learning infrastructure; teaching 21st Century skills for college preparation; and English as a second language.

“CBDD’s involvement varies depending on the alliance,” Beebe explains. “For example, on the digital library project, we work with University of Arizona and private sector providers, such as Springerlink that provided $2,961,854 of cost sharing. Our role is to work with the president from Kabul University and USAID to recruit, negotiate and build partnerships. It’s a matter of adding together all of these small pieces to make something much bigger. We pull it all together.”

The needs are many. Afghanistan has been at war in one way or another for the past two decades. “The infrastructure was totally destroyed,” Beebe said. “And it wasn’t just the gutted buildings. We zeroed in on the fact that they were still teaching with 1973 course descriptions and no textbooks.”

Another challenge is lack of critical mass in higher education, Beebe said.

“There is no one university in the country that can respond to all the needs and requirements,” she continued. So, she and her team build partnerships and introduce technology to leverage the resources that are available.

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