Author: Almaz MAHMUD, Baku-Washington, DC
Sevinj Mammadova has been a program director at George Washington University for the past two years. She is a doctor of sciences in Education Policy. She and several of her colleagues adequately represent Azerbaijan in the United States and are implementing a number of projects to train Azerbaijani students at this university. We have a conversation with Sevinj MAMMADOVA about the details of their project to integrate Azerbaijan into the global education system.
“Our planet is still suffering from the pandemic, which has not left the global education unaffected either. How would you assess the current level of development in education? Do you agree that there is a decline in education?”
“Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many failures in education internationally. Many people yet to adapt to the online learning system. There were failures, of course. In general, the innovations and changes in education give fruits in 10-15 years. Since Azerbaijan is also part of the global educational system, the development of education in the country is progressing slowly. Nonetheless, we can already feel positive shifts in this direction in Azerbaijan. Of course, it will take time to see the full results of educational reforms. Observations show that a lot of things are changing. Building a high quality education system requires powerful resources. The educational system and policies of Azerbaijan are progressing in full. One of the main conditions is the appropriate management of resources and the attraction of the select employees who will be involved in the transformation processes in accordance with their specialisation, etc.”
“There are a number of projects being implemented in Azerbaijan to ensure its integration into the global education system; active cooperation with foreign universities is developing. One of such higher education institutions is the George Washington University. Which higher educational institutions in Azerbaijan you are cooperating specifically on your projects?”
“Our university and the Azerbaijan State Pedagogical University (ASPU) have joined forces to implement a program for double certification of post-graduate students. The program has been implemented for the second year under the state program to improve the competitiveness of higher education in Azerbaijan. In September 2020, we admitted the first group of students. Based on the results of last year's and current admissions, 25 people have been admitted to the program. One of the main objectives of our program is to study international best practices in education, and make sure that the students are able to apply different tools and strategic approaches in educational policy and implementation of reforms. Upon completion of the program and after a thorough analysis of the existing problems and difficulties in education, they can submit their best practices to improve the situation. The program is designed to prepare educational leaders and policymakers. We call them strategists. In the future, these students will be able to do an in-depth analysis of problems in education, making their direct contribution to the development of education in Azerbaijan. As I said, this time 25 people were selected for the program. They have already completed the pre-academic training program and began academic studies. I hope they won't have any difficulties. Classes will begin in September.
“As part of our program, we are trying to help the teaching staff of ASPU as well. George Washington University has fully assumed this responsibility and works very closely with ASPU. Our goal is to bring international experience to Azerbaijan and strengthen the knowledge and skills of professors and teachers working in Azerbaijani universities. We think that four groups of students will make an invaluable contribution to the development of education in Azerbaijan over these four years (the project is designed for five years). The knowledge and skills they have acquired are of great importance for our country. We expect to cooperate with several more Azerbaijani universities. May be not in the program of double certification, but in other programs to improve the qualifications of teaching personnel in various areas, the organization of trainings, etc.”
“How effective were online classes during the pandemic?”
“We expect a group of professors from the George Washington University to visit Azerbaijan. Last year, due to the pandemic, we conducted lessons online. This year we plan that everything will go well and the lessons will be offline. Of course, as in all projects, along with successes, there are also difficulties. Our success is that after the first year of study, students from the first group have already completed a summer internship. They have already begun to apply what they have learned over the year in various educational institutions of the country. Many of our students even received job offers and took the first steps to apply the international experience, knowledge and skills acquired through our program. One of the biggest challenges was conducting online classes, given the nine-hour time difference between Azerbaijan and the US. It’s been indeed challenging to get the teachers from our university and most of the students connected to the online classes after work hours. But with complete confidence and pride, I can say that our students did a very good job. We have been able to solve the problem during this year, and the results showed that our students were very strong and talented.”
“If we compare Azerbaijani students with their peers from your university, what advantages and disadvantages can you mention?”
“I can say with confidence that Azerbaijani students are stronger and more determined. Perhaps this is because they have found themselves in difficult situations related to the approaches, voicing their ideas and thoughts, etc. more than their foreign peers but these difficulties, on the contrary, have strengthened them. Azerbaijani students express their thoughts more clearly, and when I compare, I can see that their work is highly valued in the American environment. Unfortunately, the students we work with study in Azerbaijan, since the program does not yet provide for their study in the US. This issue will be discussed in the future. Perhaps a few students will travel to the US and gain experience there. Currently, the educational process is taking place in Azerbaijan. There are also Azerbaijani specialists and professors working at prestigious American universities. For example, I work as a program director at the George Washington University. Another colleague of mine works there as a research assistant, and several Azerbaijani students are working as assistants. I think that they represent Azerbaijan with dignity. A few more Azerbaijani professors and specialists work in other US universities, who also represent Azerbaijan at a high level.”
“How active are Azerbaijanis living and working in the US in activities to support the Azerbaijani statehood?”
“We attend certain events and academic meetings, representing Azerbaijan as much as possible. We hold compact promotional campaigns and take other necessary steps to represent our country.”