Egypt: Fewer School Dropouts
Mostafa Ahmed Farag, a recent graduate who was working at an Internet café in Fayoum, Egypt, recently decided to start his own business maintaining computers and setting up local area networks (LANs). With Egypt's lack of schools to teach its mammoth student population—roughly 22 million— how did Mostafa acquire the skills to start and support his new business? Dr. Hoda Baraka tells us the young entrepreneur received his training through Cisco Networking Academy.
Dr. Baraka relayed this startup company story during a recent telephone interview while driving from one of her jobs to her home. The dynamic First Deputy to the Minister of Communications and Information Technology (and Professor of Computer Engineering at the Cairo University) rarely has the luxury of doing one thing at time. She also serves as the National Director of Egypt's Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Trust Fund, which was established to promote the use of ICT for development. Dr. Baraka is also very active in the Cyber Peace Initiative, in which youth, parents, and educator volunteers learn and teach the message of empowerment and safety on the Internet to their communities.
Egypt Partners with Cisco to Provide 21st Century Skills
What also drives Dr. Baraka and her colleagues is the belief that ICT skills are essential for 21st century jobs. In fact, ICT skills are now required in Egypt: a government decree states that students must be Information Technology (IT) literate in order to graduate.
IT literacy involves knowing basics of PC and Internet usage, including basic applications. However, Dr. Baraka stresses, "Such skills, although essential, are in the long run insufficient and need to be complemented with critical thinking, Web 2.0 skills, digital literacy, and 21st century skills in general."
Well-prepared students depend on well-prepared teachers. Today's teachers must have the skills and curriculum that can launch their students' future careers. To this end, Egypt's National Telecommunications Institute (NTI) began working with Cisco in 2001 to set up a regional academy in the country. NTI later became a Cisco Networking Academy Training Center using e-learning to develop ICT skills and increase ICT knowledge for small and medium-sized enterprises. In 2006, the Egyptian Education Initiative was launched in cooperation with the World Economic Forum, Cisco, and other multinational corporations.
IT Clubs, Schools, and Universities Host Networking Academy
To expand on the success of the e-learning competency centers, the next step was to deliver ICT training where students and lifelong learners congregate. Dr. Baraka says, "How we started involving Networking Academy was in cyber cafes. In Egypt we call them IT clubs. In 2007 we had about 1200 IT clubs and we thought we should leverage this platform to start providing the youth with Cisco IT Essentials and all the programs of Networking Academy."
Dr. Baraka and her colleagues thought it would be beneficial to include Networking Academy in the schools and universities as well. Networking Academy is now in 400 venues in Egypt: in schools, IT clubs, and at the university level. Whether the training is IT Essentials or Cisco CCNA and Cisco CCNP programs depends on the target group and the age bracket of the students.
Dr. Baraka sees public and private involvement as an important part of the Cisco program: "One of the major benefits of Networking Academy is that it has involved both government-level and citizen-level IT, so that both participate in enhancing education in Egypt." All the IT clubs are in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the civilian society's contribution to the education process.
ICT Training Attracts Students and Provides Jobs
Experts believe that students are more likely to stay in school if the curriculum is engaging. Dr. Baraka notes, "The Networking Academy training is interesting to the students and has helped reduce the dropout rate in the age bracket of 12- to 15-year-olds. Even some 9-year-olds have joined the Networking Academy and have successfully graduated from the program."
But it hasn't stopped there. Dr. Baraka tells us that Networking Academy brings job opportunities. Many students are becoming instructors at Networking Academy, and it is raising the skill level of the teachers.
Professional Development and Support for Instructors
The Egyptian government model for Networking Academy was a program responsible for training the instructors and supervising the processes. But they did not expect the huge response to Networking Academy that they have seen in their country. Dr. Baraka explains, "We did not anticipate how successful it was going to be, so we added more training and support for the teachers." To meet the demand, they now have call centers and a monitoring and evaluation unit to help ensure that the quality of instruction is up to their standards and provides the desired outcomes for the students and instructors.
More Hands-On Training Jump-Starts Entrepreneurs
Students can choose from several IT providers' programs, but Dr. Baraka sees a crucial distinction with the Cisco program. "Networking Academy is much more hands-on," she says.
This learning-by-doing actually helps students like Mostafa get the hands-on experience needed to start their own businesses. Dr. Baraka says, "Networking Academy helps the students start supporting their own business with complementary skills. Cisco keeps searching for what is missing for the skills required for the 21st century. And I think this led to the incorporation of the entrepreneurship module into Networking Academy."
ICT Training Transforms Education
Dr. Baraka believes ICT skills don't just make students and instructors more efficient. She says, "I think ICT training is definitely transforming the education process, especially now. At one point, ICT was viewed as an accelerator for efficiency and productivity. But now we see that ICT can help in the transformation of the education system - moving from teacher-centric education to student-centric education."