Boston College’s Maria Brisk has joined a number of American university professors in offering graduate courses to female Afghan evacuees.
“These women are so talented, and they were just stopped in Afghanistan,” Brisk, a retired Lynch School of Education and Human Development (LSEHD) professor, said. “So, pulling them out and giving them a future, an education—it’s a major thing not to lose so much talent.”
The Asian University for Women (AUW) provides online courses, including Brisk’s “Teaching the Genres of Writing,” to help female evacuees continue their education after the Taliban seized Kabul.
Brisk said her six-week intensive online course centered on the foundations of pedagogy—the practice of teaching. The course, which ended Oct. 25, was free to the Afghan women.
“They had experience in education but at a policy level,” Brisk said. “Very few of them had actually taught in schools. … My course was very practical, down to the ground. … I felt that they needed it.”
Philip Altbach, research professor and former director of BC’s Center for International Higher Education, said Brisk first got involved after he connected LSEHD with Kamal Ahmad, the founder of the AUW.
“Kamal was mainly interested in education courses, so of course the Lynch school was a logical place to go,” he said.
Altbach reached out to Stanton Wortham, dean of LSEHD, who he said was very interested in working with the AUW.
“Our goal is to help people and make the world a better place, and this seemed like a really good opportunity,” Wortham said.
After Stanton asked LSEHD faculty for help, Brisk said she stepped up right away.
“I was asked to do it, and I didn’t hesitate for one minute,” she said.
Brisk has both personal and professional expertise that few others have, according to Wortham.
“She’s built this way of looking at the teaching of writing and rhetoric and literacy that is distinctive to her, and she’s been doing it for 50 years,” Wortham said. “Nobody else has Maria Brisk. There’s no one like her who teaches the stuff that she teaches as well as she teaches it with the depth of experience.”
Through Brisk’s course, Wortham said BC is able to help these women continue their education, which otherwise would not have been possible.
“They have real need at the moment, and it fits with part of the mission of the institution,” Wortham said. “The foundation of [AUW] was to give women an opportunity to get educated and in a context where they haven’t had that opportunity.”
Brisk said it took longer than anticipated to fully launch the program due to challenges involved with evacuating the women from Afghanistan.
“It was very, very difficult,” Brisk said. “It was a harrowing experience. … I mean I was supposed to offer this course last fall, but it just didn’t happen because they weren’t getting there.”
Despite everything, Brisk said the women had an unfailing perseverance and strength.
“They are very spirited, super bright, [and] incredibly inquisitive,” Brisk said. “They were all working in Afghanistan in good jobs … and everything came to a halt. So it was devastating for them, but their spirit is incredible.”
LSEHD is offering just “a piece” of education to the AUW, Wortham said, but it is grateful to play a part in helping these women.
“I think a crucial thing that BC contributed along with that other handful of places was content [and] curriculum that was available, that was high quality, and that was available right away,” he said.
Wortham said he hopes Brisk’s course will not only develop the women’s education, but their ability to educate others.
“It’s for whoever they’re going to be able to go out and serve in the agencies and organizations or schools or wherever they end up working,” he said.
Another area the evacuees could have a big impact in, according to Brisk, is in the education of other Afghan evacuees in nearby countries.
“The surrounding countries have a lot of refugees from Afghanistan,” Brisk said. “So they could be a major force there in the education of the children there.”
Regardless of where the evacuees continue their work in education, Brisk noted the overwhelming value of their presence.
“Anywhere they go, they’re gonna be lucky to have them because they are very bright. They have a strong will to get things done,” Brisk said.