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GISCorps Volunteers taught GIS at Kabul Polytechnic University

The project was commissioned by Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU) in Marietta, GA.  SPSU was awarded a grant to establish a GIS program that includes furnishing two GIS labs and training the faculty at Kabul Polytechnic University (KPU) in Afghanistan. They asked the assistance of seasoned GIS educators to travel to Kabul for two weeks. Recruitment resulted in selection of two volunteers: Heath Robinson, an Assistant Professor of Geography at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and Stéphane Henriod, the head of GEOSTAT, Swiss Federal Statistical Office in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. The following report was submitted by the volunteers and Dr. Hussein Abaza of SPSU.

By: Heath Robinson, Stéphane Henriod, & Hussein Abaza


Through a collaboration agreement between the Department of State (DoS), Kabul Polytechnic University (KPU), and Southern Polytechnic State University (SPSU), two classrooms at KPU were renovated. One of the classrooms was furnished and equipped with 30 energy efficient desktops that have ArcGIS software installed on all of them. The lab is also equipped with a 3TB data storage unit, a wireless network, and a large screen monitor.  A solar backup generator was also installed, which can provide enough electricity to run the lab without the need for the city’s power. Phase two of the project will include furnishing the remaining classroom and providing 50 more desktops for a total of 40 computers in each lab.  The GIS center at Georgia Tech also provided more than 250 pages of instructional materials written in English and Dari, as well as GIS data from Afghanistan. The US embassy provided SPSU with connections to the GIS community in Afghanistan who provided raw GIS data.

KPU Faculty attending GIS class, GISCorps volunteers, & Dr. Abaza

The original plan of action called for the travel of 4 KPU faculty members to India or Dubai for 6 days to receive ArcGIS training. Dr. Hussein Abaza from SPSU contacted Shoreh Elhami, founder of GISCorps, for advice. Ms. Elhami had travelled before and provided training there. She offered help in recruiting senior GIS trainers who are willing to travel to Afghanistan and provide training for KPU faculty. Dr. Heath Robinson from USA and Stéphane Henriod from Switzerland agreed to volunteer. Due to political uncertainties and several instances of campus shutdown at KPU, the training schedule was changed several times, and the trainers agreed to travel on short notice.  The training finally took place between August 4th and August 19th, 2014.

Computer lab at KPU

The original goal was to train 4 KPU faculty members with training and lecture materials necessary to teach two GIS courses at the undergraduate level. However, a great interest from KPU was shown towards the GIS training. The trainees agreed to change the mission, and we had a total of 14 faculty members from KPU who actively participated in the training program. Most of the KPU faculty members who participated in the training had different levels of GIS experience.  The training covered basic and advanced GIS and we had perfect attendance in the vast majority of the training sessions. At many points, the training became more of a discussion rather than trainers training trainees. The trainers also have had great discussions with KPU faculty about the best methods of teaching GIS as well as obtaining and refining GIS data in Afghanistan.  KPU recognized the trainers’ efforts with certificate of appreciation and the trainees received training accomplishment certificates as well.

Computer lab was powered by solar panels

1st week of training

The first week of training covered basic GIS theory as well as practical applications in ESRI’s ArcGIS, an industry standard GIS software package. It included a basic introduction to GIS and the software, the construction of basic maps, vector data theory, basic geoprocessing, using model-builder to solve geographic problems, raster data theory, geodatabase theory, and construction, as well as the theoretical basis of remote sensing.

Heath Robinson receiving a certificate of appreciation

2nd week of training

Given that most of the training material had been taught already, additional modules had to be developed based on the needs expressed by the trainees themselves. The second week of the training mostly focused on the following themes:

– Vector-based spatial analysis (problem-solving, data acquisition…)– Presentation of OpenStreetMap (OSM basics, OSM tasking manager, OSM Exports)- Raster-based spatial analysis (raster calculator, raster overlay, raster extraction, pixel grouping…)- 2D and 3D representation (ArcMap symbology, ArcScene)

– Network analysis (origin-destination matrix, service areas)

– Remote sensing (theory of RS, multi-band images, NDVI, supervised image classification, interpolation for DEM creation


Stéphane Henriod teaching OSM to students

Recommendations for future

A few recommendations can be made in order to allow the GIS activities at KPU to fully develop in the future:

– Full licenses should be purchased for the extensions 3D Analyst, Spatial Analyst, and Network Analyst. Since the original plan was to cover basic and intermediate GIS subjects, 51 ArcGIS software licenses were bought without advanced extensions. However, KPU faculty showed interest in learning advanced GIS techniques such as raster based analysis and remote sensing. Temporary licenses for these extensions were installed on the computers, which will expire in September.

– It is very difficult (and expensive) to purchase high-resolution satellite imagery in Afghanistan. The trainees have been expressing deep interest for UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) technologies, such as the Sensefly eBee: For ~20’000USD, such UAVs can produce orthorectified imagery and DEMs with a spatial resolution up to 2cm. Investing into the purchase, shipping and training of a UAV in phase 2 of the project would be a real advantage for the GIS and RS activities at KPU.

City of Kabul, August 2014

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