This report, on the Egypt National Stakeholder Dialogue held in Cairo on 3 December 2018, is the third in the series, and summarises the discussion of the issues, and recommendations for practically addressing these issues in Egypt. When all five dialogues have taken place, a consolidated report will be created allowing the identification of common issues across countries, where a common approach to solutions might work, as well as issues and solutions that are specific to a particular context.
Structure of Dialogues
Each dialogue addresses the following broad areas, though it is likely that different dialogues will focus on some areas more than others. But all dialogues seek to find ways to improve access to high quality language learning, continuity and relevance of learning, and, where possible, a recognised record of achievement.
- Addressing the specific language requirements of the local higher and further education systems
- Encouraging a culture of commitment – addressing drop out
- Different models of language course delivery in the local context
- E-learning – fully utilising blended, online and digital courses
- English/ ‘Language for Specific Purposes’
- Needs in terms of teacher training
The structure of each dialogue follows the following lines:
- Welcome and introductions, including any recommendations from previous events.
- Panel session: Addressing the specific language requirements of the local higher and further education system
- Language for resilience for Syrian students: Brainstorming and Group Discussions:
Identifying opportunities in language programmes
- Programmatic challenges and needs
- Capacity of the higher education institutions
The session involves:
- Brainstorming ideas onto flipcharts of issues and potential solutions to the issues above
- Group discussions on each of the flipcharts, and other issues
- Feedback from groups with recommendations
- Next steps and closing remarks.
Process of the dialogue and issues addressed
There were 23 participants in the dialogue comprising experts, providers of scholarships, university representatives, teachers of English and Syrian students. All took active part in the discussions, and the views of the students were particularly sought.
Welcoming remarks given by Mr. Harry Haynes, the HOPES project lead for the Higher Education English Access Programme (HEEAP), provided a background to the HOPES project and to this series of national stakeholder dialogues focused on language for resilience. He also spoke of the 17 partner universities involved in the programme, including three in Egypt. Mr. Alex Lambert, Director Programmes, British Council Egypt, welcomed the participants, as did Mr. Ville Suutarinen representing the Madad Fund and the EU delegation to Egypt.
Dr Hanan Al Said is Director of the Centre for the Blended Learning, Ain Shams University. Ain Shams is one of the HOPES partner universities in Egypt. Three batches of students have completed their courses and a current batch of 80 students is doing a course.
Dr Al Said addressed the challenges of running these courses and outlined some of the benefits both to students and to the University. She noted the first challenge as locating Syrian students within the institution considering that there are 200,000 students at Ain Shams. She noted that Syrian students need to be fully involved in the institution so that they are visible. She used informal methods of connecting with students, through social media like Facebook, and more directly through friends and contacts. Once connected, the Syrian students were linked through a WhatsApp group and the administrative work could begin. But this process took some time.
The next stage was trying to fit students into different English-language levels for classes. This was done by the British Council. Ain Shams University has ongoing IT issues as it is on the same circuit as the Ministry of Defence. When the university started working on courses they had to deal with staffing issues with teachers, timing issues for courses that didn’t clash with the students’ majors and high dropout rates. The University tries to get all students involved in the course, because “we believe in the project” and the University believes in the need for, and importance of, English language for the students. She noted that the courses are also offered to Egyptian students and that 30% of the groups are Egyptians. She emphasised the importance of integrating both Syrians and Egyptians in one class.
When discussing the benefits of the courses for students, she asked two student participants in the dialogue to comment on what they thought of the course they had attended. Both were very positive. “It was very helpful for me. It helped me understand my medical course and also helped with my general communication skills. Studying with Egyptian students also made it better.” “The course not only improved my level of English and communication skills but also let me meet and talk to Egyptian students.”
Dr Said emphasised that English is the common international language, and everyone needs English to use the Internet effectively, to understand online training courses, and it is beneficial in applying for jobs.
She noted that programme also brings benefits to the University, most particularly staff training in communicative language teaching skills. Having high quality training within the institution is very beneficial. There are still issues with poor Internet, and teaching and course schedules, but the institution continues to learn and improve.
Mr. Alaa Alkraidy is a Syrian refugee working with St Andrews Refugee Services (StARS). He briefly covered the importance of English for refugees, barriers for those with limited English and some solutions. He noted that the Syrian education system is in Arabic throughout, and English is not emphasised. Similarly, employment in Syria does not require English language skills. In Egypt, on the other hand, holders of Egyptian high school certificates can access Egyptian higher education in the same way as Egyptians can. However, some faculties require a high-level of English to complete the course, all scholarships require a level of English, and online training requires English-language skills. In Egypt, job opportunities are better if one has a command of English.
The barriers facing Syrian refugees with no English are profound. Lack of English impacts on further education, the ability to apply for scholarships and job opportunities. So, education, academic opportunities and future career opportunities are all adversely impacted by a lack of English.
He proposed some solutions to this problem: The first is to increase awareness among Syrians of the fundamental importance of English for education and work opportunities outside Syria. He also suggested designing language training based on the need of specific student groups. More importantly he suggested helping develop a culture of self-learning: courses are very useful, but unless individuals take responsibility for their own language learning they will never reach a high-level. The final suggestion is that donors and others target younger students in school, so that by the time they leave school their English level is of a reasonable standard.
Dr Diane Lakh is from the American University of Cairo. She gave her presentation at very short notice and spoke about her research into teaching of languages to refugees and displaced people around the world.
She began by saying that unless students are fully engaged in their learning; they become marginalised and likely to drop out. She reiterated the importance of English for study and for work, and added for emigration as well.
She has studied successful practices used by teachers around the world to avoid student dropout. These include culturally relevant teaching (acknowledging the students home culture while acculturating them to the host countries culture). Teachers need training to include teaching refugees, and ideally practical teaching experience with these groups. A suggestion from New Zealand is to have a time set aside each day in the class for free discussion on matters of importance to individual students. She also recommended the writing of a personal journal, which can alleviate trauma. Teachers’ connection with students’ families is also seen as important. Teaching materials should be customised for different student groups.
She suggested that interest in the class leads to engagement, which in turn leads to commitment. And the key to this is the approach of the teacher. She also recommends “flipped classes”, where the focus is on student-led, and student-centred, learning.
- In the discussion following the panel presentations, a participant noted that within Egypt the status of Syrian students has changed since 2013. At that stage, Syrian students were accepted into universities without fees. However, now there are three categories of Syrian students. At undergraduate level if a student has passed the Egyptian secondary certificate in a government school, then they are accepted into university as an Egyptian student. If a student has graduated from a private school, an international school, or holds a Syrian school certificate, they are treated as international students and have to pay fees. At postgraduate level, all Syrian students are now considered to be international students.
Someone from Student Action for Refugees (STAR) at the American University of Cairo referred to the comment about the difficulty in connecting with refugees in universities. Emails do not work, and social media like Facebook are the way to do it, she said. She also noted that some refugees want to learn English from native speakers, and STAR recruited international students who are native speakers to teach Syrians at AUC. She also suggested the use of Syrians as teachers, provided they are giving updated training.
Alaa said that Syrians know that English is important, but they do not realise how important it is. He told a story of working in Egypt with Syrian colleagues who did not speak English but said, “It is okay, we have a job without knowing English.” However, when the organisation closed down, Alaa quickly got another job because he spoke English, but his colleagues found it much more difficult to find work.
During the coffee break participants were asked to comment or make recommendations against five flipchart headings, and that the end of that session they moved into groups to discuss each of the issues.