Schools of hope and new opportunities in Egypt
To bridge the gap between children in schools in rural areas and their more privileged peers in the formal education, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is supporting community schools in Egypt.
Community schools in rural communities, often providing the only chance for an education for many children. The right to an education is a universal right for every child, yet the sad reality remains that not every child is given that right. Many families find themselves struggling to give their children their fundamental right of an education for many reasons; poverty tops the list!
Hala Gamal, a medical nurse in the health center in her village, is a great example of how WFP’s school feeding programme can change people’s lives. WFP has been implementing in Egypt since 1968. Hala attended a community or one-classroom school in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Assiut.
“I spent 6 years of my life studying in the community school and I owe my success to it for providing me with an environment that motivated me to finish my education and go to university even. It is because of this school that I was able to pursue my dream to join the nursing academy and to excel in it.
“Looking back at my days at the community school, I see how we were given an opportunity that children from our community many years ago did not have.”
A strong believer of the importance of an education, Hala Gamal spends most of her free time meeting with neighbours who have children staying at home to convince them to enrol them in the community school in their hometown.
Community schools are established in extremely remote areas where no public schools are available within a 2 km radius. They are multi-grade one classroom schools that provide quality primary education for exceptionally vulnerable hard to reach or out- of-school children aged 6–14. Today there are 133,692 students currently enrolled in the 4,995 community schools across Egypt.
In partnership with the Government of Egypt, WFP supports community schools nationwide through a package of assistance provided to the students and their families. Children are provided with a nutritious in school snack that supplements them with 25 percent of their daily nutritional needs. Families of children with an attendance rate of 80% or above are also provided with cash assistance or are provided with a monthly ration of 10 kg of rice and 1 litre of oil, acting as an incentive to the parents to continue to send their children to school on a regular basis.
Children living in communities where WFP is on the ground building the resilience of families, teachers and smallholder farmers, often find themselves dropping out of school to work at a young age in order to support their families. Parents are unable to pay for transportation to send their children to the public schools far away from home and are forced to make the decision to deprive their children of their basic right to education.
But things have changed for the better for many of these families with the establishment of community schools in the heart of their community and Hala is just one example of how these school can change the lives of so many.
“I still remember the date bar we were given as students, for many of us that was our breakfast, we came to school on an empty stomach. Now that I’m a nurse, I understand the value of the vitamins and minerals that are added to these snacks and how vitamin deficiency commonly causes serious health problems,” explained Hala.
Understanding that students in community schools must be given the right to equally compete with their peers from other schools, WFP — with the Ministry of Education and Technical Education (MOE) and private sector partners — has transformed more than 180 of these schools into community hubs- smart schools provided with internet connectivity, projectors and tablets to help foster an improved learning and knowledge environment. Teachers are trained by WFP and MOE to enhance their skills on utilizing the provided technology and online resources such as the Egyptian Knowledge Bank to create an engaging learning experience for their students.
Children are encouraged to explore the world through videos, games, songs, photos and stories. Introduced last year, the tablets have already shown a positive impact on children, making them more engaged and encouraging them to explore new ideas. Teachers are observing their students and are building on their interests to help shape curricular choices provided in the classroom.
Dalia Kassem, is now in year four at Iwan Community School in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minia. She has been attending school for the past two years and witnessed the transformation of the school with the introduction of technology. “The teacher taught me to use the tablet and how to access the Egyptian Knowledge Bank to search for videos for my friends and myself,” says Dalia, “learning through the videos we watch is much more interesting for us and actually makes me want to go to school every morning.”
Dalia Kassem looks forwards to going to school every day to surf the Egyptian Knowledge Bank in search of videos that can help her and her peers learn their lessons in a fun and engaging way.
The Community Hub also serves the surrounding communities by offering them awareness raising sessions organized in partnership with government partners on multiple topics like life-saving first aid, poultry raising, improved agricultural practices and personal hygiene.
Community members attend different awareness sessions held in the hubs on poultry raising, improved agricultural practices and first aid among other things.
“My parents attended the sessions in the school on poultry raising and they also learned many first aid practices that they now practice at home,” added Dalia.
Today children in Egypt’s rural communities are eager to wake up every morning and go to school to learn in an engaging environment and to dream big with their peers and teachers.