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Where the US and Pakistan are working together

The $75 million USAID Teacher Education Project alone won't patch the US and Pakistan governmental relationship. But education projects are one way to maintain people-to-people relations. 

By Staff writer / June 15, 2012

A group of 22 high-ranking Pakistani education officials and policymakers are in the US meeting with education experts, as part of the USAID Teacher Education Project.

Courtesy of Education Development Center

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Every few months, US-Pakistan relations seem to fall to a new low.  

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The latest tumble happened this week when the United States announced it had called off negotiations with Pakistan to reopen NATO supply routes. 

But even as Washington and Islamabad figure out how to mend their struggling relationship, soft diplomacy efforts – and billions of dollars – are in place to keep US-Pakistan ties from fraying completely. 

In fact, a group of 22 high-ranking Pakistani education officials and policymakers are in the US meeting with education experts. It's part of a first-of-its-kind, USAID-funded project to professionalize Pakistan's teachers and upgrade the quality of education in the nation's elementary and secondary schools.

The USAID Teacher Education Project alone may not patch the relationship between the US and Pakistan, but funding education projects is one way the US is able to support the kinds of moderate values that both the Pakistani government and the US say they want to promote.

“We need a strong civil society here in Pakistan that is safe and secure. We cannot produce that without good education,” says Mahmood ul Hasan Butt, director of the USAID Teacher Education Project, which is being implemented by EDC, a nonprofit based outside Boston.

Pakistan is having trouble attracting both teachers and students to classrooms. Dr. Butt attributes a large portion of these problems to the state of the teaching profession. Until now, there was no special training for teachers and few incentives to teach.

The USAID Teacher Education Project is a $75 million, five-year project under the Kerry-Lugar-Bergman Act. Since the project began in 2009, Pakistani teachers and policymakers have been meeting regularly in Pakistan, working on developing and implementing their own education policy changes, developing new syllabuses, and working with the higher education commission to implement new education degrees.

Pakistan is introducing both a two-year associate's degree and a four-year bachelor’s degree in education, with a plan to require a bachelor's degree in education by 2018. To encourage teachers to get the degree now, schools are offering higher pay to teachers with the new qualification.

Some in Pakistan criticize USAID’s approach to dispensing aid and Pakistan’s apparent dependence on it. The US has pumped $20.7 billion in aid into Pakistan since 2002 (some two-thirds military, the rest civilian). US lawmakers often complain that Pakistan does not cooperate as much as hoped, and have threatened to suspend aid. And in some cases have acted: After the doctor who helped the US track down Osama bin Laden was sentenced to 33 years in prison, the Senate voted to cut aid by $33 million. And more recently, the US cut $20 million for the Pakistani version of Sesame Street after USAID made allegations of fraud against the show's producers.

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