By Ioanna Moriatis | This story appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of AUCToday.
Click here for quotes from public school teachers about AUC’s training program.
AUC’s role in shaping lives starts the moment a student is first admitted, aspiring to be part of the values the University constantly emanates.
But what about all those years before a student steps onto campus — those years of schooling when a student first learns to absorb knowledge?
Working to be present at all stages of a student’s life, the University is partnering with organizations and community members to help enhance Egypt’s education system — a hefty task given a system with more than 23 million students.
AUC’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) partnered with the Egyptian Refining Company (ERC), a subsidiary of Qalaa Holdings, to provide a capacity-building professional training program for 30 public school teachers of early-year learners from three different educational directorates: East Shubra Al Kheima, Al Matareya and Al Khosous. “At Qalaa Holdings, we have a very firm belief that education is extremely important for the advancement of Egypt,” said Ahmed Heikal, chairman of ERC.
“I’m very proud of this program. Those are neighborhoods that are extremely in need of upgrading their public school systems. So we’re very proud to be involved in this initiative.”
AUC’s Center for Sustainable Development has also launched a project, School of 2030: Education for Sustainable Development, in Boulaq Al Dakrour – EduCamp III. The project’s main objective is to transform education in Egypt by building schools in informal settlement areas, working toward achieving the country’s larger sustainable development strategy, known as Egypt Vision 2030.
“The world has turned to education for sustainable development after witnessing the impact of human exploitation on each other and the environment,” said Hani Sewilam, mechanical engineering professor and founding director of the Center for Sustainable Development who is managing the EduCamp project.
The first cohort of AUC’s GSE-ERC program recently celebrated the completion of its professional training program, ushering in another cohort of public school teachers.
Through such collaborative initiatives, AUC encourages external entities to build programs and projects that promote positive local change. In this way, AUC acts as the nucleus of educational transformation in Egypt, both producing knowledge and effecting change through its own programs while also establishing partnerships to pioneer impactful projects using the University’s venues and resources. “It’s a very good initiative because different companies and businessmen fund the training of public school teachers at AUC as part of their professional development,” said Heba El Deghaidy, associate professor and chair of AUC’s Department of International and Comparative Education.
This professional training program falls under phase two of the ERC’s Mostakbaly [My Future] initiative, which was launched to tackle inequalities in Egypt’s education system and improve the quality of instruction in public schools. “I’m particularly excited about this program,” said Adham Ramadan ’91, dean of graduate studies who served as acting dean of the Graduate School of Education in Spring 2018. “We are all working with local government districts in ERC’s region. This is a great example of how businesses can actually support communities around them.”
ERC awarded the scholarships specifically to kindergarten and primary school teachers, enabling them to participate in AUC’s Professional Educator Training Program, a customized GSE capacity-building professional training for educators of young learners.
The one-year program covers a range of topics, including child development, teaching strategies, assessment, active learning and technology in the classroom. To cater to the new cohort’s needs, the program is now delving into even more subjects, such as communication, presentation, time management, interpersonal skills and differentiation in the classroom. “The teachers have actually started to apply these skills inside the classrooms,” noted El Deghaidy.
Setting a Model
EduCamp III marks the third phase of the Education for Sustainable Development Beyond the Campus initiative (EduCamp), which was initiated in 2010. Granted support from the European Union’s Tempus program, AUC and the RWTH Aachen University in Germany launched the initiative to introduce education for sustainable development in Egypt. The main component of the current phase involves establishing models for Egyptian schools to exemplify how to enhance education in tune with Egypt Vision 2030.
The project is focused on transforming two schools in Boulaq Al Dakrour: Mohamed Farouk Wahdan Preparatory School and Gamal Abdel Nasser Primary School.
“We wanted to create a model that is representative of Egyptian schools, and in order to do that, we had to target national schools in areas that need intervention,” said Sewilam. “Sustainable development is needed the most. We chose two schools in Boulaq Al Dakrour that represent the real problems most Egyptians face. We want to develop solutions tailored specifically for Egypt’s unique socioeconomic challenges.”
During the first phase of the initiative, EduCamp I, the team created education for sustainable development kits and delivered them to various schools in Egypt, opening seven centers of excellence at seven Egyptian universities. For the second phase of the project, EduCamp II in 2014, AUC’s Center for Sustainable Development began working to introduce education for sustainable development in informal areas around Egypt.
EduCamp III now aims to introduce sustainable development teaching in Egyptian schools over one year, implementing the initiative on a larger scale with support from the European Union and German government. Plans include creating and conducting a capacity development program for school stakeholders, renovating school facilities to include the necessary resources and developing education for sustainable development kits.
“If you produce sustainability-literate youth, then you will have created a new generation aware of the problems facing them and can develop suitable interventions for Egypt’s unique challenges,” affirmed Sewilam.
The schools in Boulaq Al Dakrour will help stakeholders in Egypt’s education system uncover solutions to recurring issues in public schools, such as infrastructure problems, overcrowded classes, teaching quality and violence. The project is particularly taking into account children with special needs, females and mothers in designing the model schools based on the specific needs of the community.
Since September 2017, the project team has assessed the needs of the two schools and developed plans for renovation and implementation of the training programs. “We are currently training the school teachers and managers and working on renovation,” said Sewilam.
A Change in Teacher Mindset
AUC seeks to set an example for public schools, engaging individual teachers and prompting instructors to rethink their teaching styles and roles in the classroom, rather than tackling the larger education system itself. “We are helping teachers become agents of change in education,” said Ramadan.
Now in the middle of the second round of training with a new cohort of teachers, Dahlia Fouad, one of the instructors in AUC’s Professional Educator Training Program, has the chance to observe the various challenges public school teachers face in building their skills and bettering their schools.
“Having worked in the education field for a while, I can see a big gap between private and public schools,” noted Fouad. “This is not because the public school teachers are not as good as those in private schools, but the ones in private schools get exposed to international training, peer acquaintances and professional development in certain areas.”
Fouad indicated that these differences lead public school teachers to the conclusion that the system itself is the main obstacle to advancing school instruction in Egypt. “In their minds, they are more stuck on the system itself,” she reflected. “They feel they are victims of the system. What we have been trying to do to these teachers is break the chains and train them to become autonomous teachers. Yes, we have problems in Egypt’s education system. No one can deny this. But, it’s all about the teacher. If you remove the classroom, curriculum and system, it’s still the teacher and student.”
Although she initially spotted some resistance amongst teachers, Fouad noted significant changes in their mindsets by the end of the first cohort’s program. “They’re more self-assured,” she said. “They have self-esteem and are confident about their capabilities. They want to make a change. This is not just on an academic or pedagogical level, but also on a personal level.”
Saeed Ghoneim, a teacher from Al Khosous Language School, benefited from the program’s emphasis on knowledge-sharing and exchange, and learned about himself as a teacher in the process. “This course developed many things in my personality,” he reflected. “At AUC, I learned how to share and exchange my experience with my colleagues. The most useful course was how to deal with technology and present material in an updated way. The way we were trained at AUC was excellent, very different. I have changed as a teacher and learned to not stop learning.”
Emphasizing the crucial role teachers play, Sewilam noted, “You would be surprised at what well-qualified teachers can do inside classrooms with no or minimal resources. This is why the teacher is the most important stakeholder in the education system. Another equally important goal is the restructuring of the technical and vocational education system. If we focus on this, it has the potential to solve many other problems, such as the lack of skilled labor, and to help the Egyptian economy as a whole.”
AUC’s impact might begin with a cohort of 30 teachers or two schools in Boulaq Al Dakrour, but that effect — even if gradual — has the potential to spread, transforming mindsets and making an impact across the country. “It’s about leading the way forward for change,” said Ramadan. “Sometimes people say it’s outreach, but I think it’s beyond that because you’re developing skills that will hopefully have a domino effect.”