Major teacher training program begins in Bolivia

11 April 2003

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Nur University has embarked on a major project to train primary school teachers in Bolivia, with the aim of improving children's reading and writing ability.

Nur, a Baha'i-inspired institution, has begun assembling a team of educators to set up and run a pilot program for the training of some 700 primary school teachers.

The university is being funded in the work by a two-year grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Officials from the Agency said Nur was awarded the contract because of its regional credibility, experience with training school teachers in rural areas, and innovative approaches to education

"One of the things Nur brought was their experience in distance education and their commitment to supporting development in rural Bolivia," said Barbara Knox-Seith of USAID. "They have also worked with teachers who don't have much training."

The program, Centers of Excellence in Teacher Training (CETT), was announced in April 2001 by US President George Bush at the Summit of the Americas.

It will operate not only in Bolivia but also in 10 other Latin American and Caribbean countries, where counterpart institutions have, like Nur, received contracts.

"The Achilles heel of the education reform throughout Latin America has been the whole issue of providing effective reading instruction for children," said Eloy Anello, president of Nur University and coordinator of the program in Bolivia.

"If children don't learn to read effectively by the fourth grade, they tend to drop out," Dr Anello said. "The best way to address this is to improve the way we train teachers to teach reading."

"So our belief is that, ultimately, this is one of the most effective ways to eliminate illiteracy throughout the Americas," said Dr. Anello.

Ultimately, the CETT program aims to train some 15,000 teachers in Latin America and the Caribbean over the course of five years, subject to the availability of funds.

The program has been divided into three regions: the Caribbean, Central America, and the Andes.

Nur will participate in the Andean regional project, which encompasses the three nations of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru. Two other universities in the region, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Peru and Universidad Andina Simon Bolivar in Ecuador, will coordinate the project in those countries.

"The idea behind this is to create an innovative teacher training program that will improve teacher ability in the area of reading instruction and, through that, to improve literacy rates," said Dr. Knox-Seith of USAID.

Nur, which was founded by Baha'is, is not only helping to develop the basic materials but will also take a leading role in publishing the materials and making them accessible over the Internet, said Dr. Anello.

"The Baha'i teachings emphasize the importance of education in developing human potential and promoting social transformation," said Dr. Anello.

"Because of this, Nur has committed itself to supporting the educational reforms in Latin America -- and it has concluded that one of the best ways to do this is through teacher training."