CORVALLIS, Ore. - A pioneering program designed to encourage educational improvement and innovation in Pakistan, and begin breaking down cultural stereotypes in that country and in the United States, will begin this fall when a group of 18 rural Pakistani educators come to Oregon State University to study teacher education.

Two other groups of Pakistanis will study at OSU during winter and fall terms of 2005, and the program may be renewable for an additional three years. It is funded by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to the Academy for Educational Development.

OSU is one of just three universities in the country participating in the program, along with the University of Montana and George Mason University.

The first group will arrive on campus in mid-September, where they will begin meeting with OSU faculty and students, visiting Oregon schools, observing other forms of education through Extension programs and internships, and taking in local sights, from OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland.

"One of the main goals of the program is to begin addressing the literacy rate in Pakistan, which is as low as 20 percent in rural areas," said Michael Dalton, assistant to the dean in OSU's School of Education and project co-director. "In some cases, they are training teachers to go into schools that are mud huts, with no electricity, where the students sit on cinder blocks and recite passages.

"There is no sense of scientific exploration and discovery, or examination of complex issues," he added. "We hope to help them broaden that approach to education."

Roughly 18 Pakistani educators will be on campus this fall, said Dalton, who added that the exact number is still up in the air because of rigorous security screening. They will be at OSU through mid-December, learning new ways to deliver science education to teachers in Pakistan's equivalent of grades K-8. Additional groups of teacher educators specializing in English as a second language and math education are anticipated next year.

Dalton said the visitors will create individual action plans that they will take home to Pakistan that may include a particular science teaching technique, specific lesson plans, or a new leadership model. The educators are in mid-career, ages 25 to 40, and are responsible for training teachers in rural areas.

In fact, OSU was chosen for the grant in part because of the rural nature of its programs, including Extension, Dalton said.

"One of the things we plan to do is introduce them to concepts like the Wildlife Stewards program in Extension, where students at local schools improve the habitat for birds and other wildlife on school grounds," he pointed out. "It's a great way to introduce science and ecology lessons through hands-on, practical experience."

OSU's School of Education is partnering with the university's English Language Institute on the grant. ELI director Deborah Healey, who is co-director of the project with Dalton, said her organization will take the lead with the English language education component and facilitate many of the cultural opportunities for the Pakistanis.

"We'd like to explore some long-term relationships between OSU and Pakistani institutions and faculty," Healey said. "Real educational change and innovation come from sustained activity over time. It starts with the face-to-face interaction that will begin this fall, but the innovation and lessons - both for the Pakistanis and Oregonians - need to be adapted to fit local contexts and reinforced."

Sam Stern, dean of OSU's School of Education, has met with several administrators from Willamette Valley school districts who are excited about the possibility for cultural exchange with the Pakistani contingent.

"Islam is the fastest growing religion in the United States," Stern said, "yet we get hung up over stereotypes and really don't know very much about the people of Pakistan or the Middle East. One of the benefits I see of this program is to begin breaking down those stereotypes and getting to know the people."

Stern said he is particularly excited about the opportunity for OSU education students to interact with the visitors. One of his goals as dean, Stern adds, is to broaden the cultural competencies of the next generation of classroom teachers.

"The world is changing, Oregon is changing and our classrooms are changing," Stern said. "We need to help our teachers better prepare for those changes."

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Michael Dalton, 541-737-6392