Re-imagining Education in Egypt
[Photo by Karen Green]
When the system is not working, sometimes it is better to take things into your own hands. In Egypt, some entrepreneurs are doing just that by experimenting with new frameworks in education in order to combat the deficiencies of Egyptian classrooms.
“Education is a right for people as is their right for air and water,” Taha Hussein, Egyptian writer and Minister for Education, stated in 1950 when free education at the pre-university levels was introduced for all Egyptian citizens. Despite the venerability of such a commitment, education in Egypt has deteriorated over the past few decades due to overcrowding, a lack in funding, poor teaching styles, inadequate training for teachers, and a host of other reasons.
Both prior to, and after the 25 January 2011 uprising, education in Egypt has been based in routine, with standardized teaching processes and subject memorization as the overwhelming norm. Parents often find themselves relying on private tutoring in order to fill in the gaps of their child’s education, a cost that weighs heavily on their pockets. According to a 2012 statistic from the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics, an estimated 65% of Egyptian students turn to private tutoring or study groups to fill in the voids of their education in order to past standardized tests, exams, or be prepared for the next grade level.
The ability to afford private tutoring or study groups does not come cheap or easy for most of the population, leaving children and families behind to fend for themselves in the battle for education. This is also demonstrated by the stark difference between private and public schooling. “Today, parts of the education sector are thriving, mainly where citizens can pay for their schooling. Other parts, typically available to the less fortunate, are caught in a broken system,” writes Paula Larink of the Monterey Institute of International Studies in her blog focusing on education in Egypt.
“Most of the problems are well known; the issue is fundamentally one of political will. Improving education is of great importance to the public, but overhauling the large bureaucracy is a difficult task,” states a Chatham House report titled “Education in Egypt,” released in January 2012. Yet, some Egyptians are not waiting for the government to change the system in order for improvement to occur.
Thanks to a series of entrepreneurs, a variety of different programs, ideas, and concepts that seek to re-imagine education and improve it are emerging. One such program is Tahrir Academy, launched in January 2012 by Wael Ghoneim and modeled after Khan Academy (read Tadween Publishing’s blog post on Khan Academy here). Tahrir Academy promotes itself as an educational project that aims to produce a library of different material and videos that will help bolster the education of primary and secondary school students. The program’s slogan is “a revolution over traditional educational means.”
According to Daily News Egypt, the academy, in coordination with the ministry of health, recently produced several videos that provide information to citizens on how to prevent contagious diseases. The academy is also working on a series that hopes to explain the basic concepts of economics.
Similar to Tahrir Academy, Nafham is also a free educational site that offers curriculum designed to promote understanding. “The site aims to instill in students a love for education and a deeper understanding of the learning process, while erasing crippling cultural obstacles to educational success that exist in some environments, such as the phenomenon of socially ostracizing successful students,” writes Khaled Sadek for Wamda.
Tahrir Academy and Nafham are not alone in their ambition to educate Egypt’s youth. Weladna, launched in September 2012, is Egypt’s first education e-commerce platform that sells education products that teach children about Egyptian culture. The e-commerce website, however, is not seeking to limit itself to online games when it comes to educating children. Weladna’s co-founders are currently working on a program titled Ana Masri (“I am Egyptian”) that will teach children about cultural and social traditions.
In another venture to enhance education in Egypt, the Green Community School, launched in 2012, seeks to provide low cost, high quality education in Egypt. “The ministry chooses the curriculum, but not the specific teaching methods, thankfully leaving the door to creativity open,” stated the school’s founder Fatima Basahi. The Green Community School unravels the traditional concepts of teaching and tries to promote innovative curricula in order to enhance education in the classroom.
Despite the genius of these education-based projects and programs, they also have their downsides. Tahrir Academy, Nafham, and Weladna all require technology either at home or in the classroom, something that not all Egyptian families or schools can afford, even though they might need it the most. The Green Community School still operates on a very small scale and is still working to obtain an official license from the Egyptian government.
Nevertheless, when it comes to education, these programs are doing what the Egyptian government is not: taking action.