In Kabul, Afghanistan, 16 young university graduates are hard at work on a six-week prep course for the International English Language Test System, or IELTS, a standardised English test for
students hoping to study in an English-speaking country. The men and women taking the Kabul IELTS prep course have a singular goal in mind: a test score of 6.5, the benchmark for applications to ISMC’s MA in Muslim Cultures.
Eshaq Muqbel, an MA-hopeful from Badakhshan province, is coun
ting on the course to get him to the ISMC – and from there, to a career in academia and development in Afghanistan.
“I want to be a lecturer at a highly accredited Afghan university and do voluntary work for the betterment of society, perhaps working with the AKDN agencies in the related field,” he said. But first, Eshaq needs to continue his education – and this course, funded in part by the ISMC, is designed to help him and his colleagues make the leap from national stand-outs to international success stories.
“We are thinking of preparing leaders for the future,” said Fakhrullah Safari, a programme organiser and a member of the Aga Khan National Council of Afghanistan.
“Education in Afghanistan isn’t up to this level, but the ISMC is, and Afghanistan needs these kinds of people.”
Safari said the course was designed to spur interest in the study of Muslim culture, and also to meet an increasingly common need in the Afghan economy: for better-educated adults.
“In previous years, we had job opportunities in Afghanistan for anyone with a 12th-grade education or a Bachelor’s degree. But now companies want a Master’s degree. The people in this class want to pursue their education, and in the future, they want leading positions in our society.” The pilot course builds a crucial bridge for students who need to up-skill before writing the IELTS, but can’t afford the $350-$400 cost of private prep courses. It begins and ends with a practice test, so students can track their progress, and includes regular IELTS mock tests. At the end of the six-week gauntlet, students take a Password test that assesses their knowledge of English grammar
and vocabulary, as well as listening and speaking skill, and gives them a good indication of their IELTS level.
For students like Eshaq, this sort of in-classroom learning is a crucial part of test preparation.
“The skills and techniques we learned about the IELTS are really valuable and helpful,” he said. “The practice and daily activities push the students to read more and help us be better
prepared for the test.”
ISMC’s support has been crucial in getting this prep course off the ground: ISMC funding covers the cost of a classroom and an experienced instructor, as well as tea and biscuits for students – a valuable bit of cultural prep for 16 young people dreaming of London. Student Khudai Behrdi, intent on a career in education with a focus on youth and Islamic issues, said his English skills had noticeably improved. “What was unique for me in class was the hard work of our instructor. I feel great changes in myself as a result of attending the course.”
For student Khadija Rahyab, the course has made an enormous difference to her English skills – but whether that will be difference enough remains to be seen. “The most valuable parts were the teacher, the materials, and the course outline. But it was too short and we need more time, because as English is not our native language still there are some common mistakes we make that might decrease our points,” she said. Despite any shortcomings, Safari is convinced that if Eshaq, Khadija and their colleagues hit the IELTS benchmark and make their way to the ISMC, the power of a course like this will be clear. “This is a unique degree. For their future, for the careers they are dreaming about, this ISMC degree will be life-changing,” he said. Safari and his colleagues are well aware of the risk that this prep course could in some way facilitate the ‘brain drain’ whereby the country’s most able students leave for better opportunities elsewhere, but they cite a broader trend where young people leave, become better educated, gather experience – and often a second citizenship – and then return to their home country.
But for the young people from Bamiyan, Badakhshan, Sangin and beyond, all buckling down to study in a Kabul classroom, the only horizon that matters now is the one at the end of this month.