“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela said. Education plays a key role for providing opportunities that are available to people of all ages. The country’s development is characterized by the educational outcomes of its youth population. To face the challenges of the 21st century and to shape human development, it is important to allow every child and person receiving a quality education. In the case of Egypt, the country faces different challenges in doing so.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” Nelson Mandela
While the Egyptian education system may seem adequate in terms of free education possibilities and enrollment numbers, in practice it is in need of reforms. Progress has been made in terms of school enrollment, level of education and dropout prevention. However, the school quality needs to be improved. The enrollment rates in private schools and universities as well as high number of pupils who need private tutoring signal that the quality of public schools is low. According to the 2014 Survey of Young People in Egypt (SYPE), more than 40% of primary students aged below 18 years and 60% of preparatory students aged below 18 years received paid tutoring, for instance.
Education for Sustainable Development
Quality education – this is what the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 envisions: “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. In the SEKEM Nursery, the SEKEM Kindergarten, the SEKEM School and the SEKEM Vocational Training Center, the SEKEM Initiative fosters combining traditional educational methods with innovative learning paths. With its holistic education approach the initiative follows the UNESCO definition of Education for Sustainable Development; the SEKEM School is even a so called UNESCO School.
Education for Sustainable Development is about enabling us to constructively and creatively address present and future global challenges and create more sustainable and resilient societies. “Our school vision does not only address intellectuality but also the spiritual and physical part of everyone”, says Yvonne Floride, who is working in educational and practical training at SEKEM.
Most Egyptian schooling is teacher-centered, repetitive and concentrates too much on the simple recall of information. Also, there is still inequality in education opportunities and outcomes: socio-economic background, specifically wealth and parental education, strongly affect the different aspects of education.
To combat this inequality, SEKEM supports inclusive education with its education for children with special needs as well as the community children program. The latter, the so called Chamomile Children’s Project, has been launched more than twenty years ago. Many poor families cannot afford to live without the income children bring into the family and, hence, many children are taken out of school far too early if they join at all. For instance, the Demographic and Health Survey 2014 found that overall, seven percent of children aged five to 17 years were involved in child labor – here defined as the involvement in economic activities or household chores for longer hours than are considered appropriate or the work under hazardous conditions. The percentage was higher in rural areas than in urban areas.
In order to prevent this, SEKEM has created an alternative: SEKEM enrolls the children in the SEKEM Community School and combines this with an opportunity to gain income through adequate work, mainly related to the chamomile harvest. This program is officially approved by the Egyptian government.
In the end it does not matter in which of SEKEMs educational institutions the children are enrolled: “All of our pupils are a little bit different,“ knows Gamal El-Sayed, director of the SEKEM School. “They are all brave enough to try walking new paths, even if they fall on their face. They have the confidence to take risks”, he adds.
“All of our pupils are a little bit different,“ Gamal El-Sayed
Also with its SEKEM Environmental Science Center, SESC, the SEKEM Initiative walks new paths. In 2010, the SEKEM School co-founded the SESC. SESC provides extracurricular activities to SEKEM School pupils as well as field trips to external schools in a non-formal education setting. SESC offers a space for experimenting with new educational approaches and curriculum design to complement the formally accredited school system. The vision of SESC is to be a learning space that nurtures the inherent lifelong awakening process of human beings.
Devoted to sustainable development
Under SEKEMs patronage the Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development was opened in 2012, the first university in the Middle East declaring sustainable development as its overall goal. The university fosters a holistic approach to teaching, research and practice in its currently Faculty of Business and Economics, Faculty of Engineering as well as Faculty of Pharmacy. SEKEM offers special conditions for its employees if they or their family members wish to attend the Heliopolis University or the other educational institutions. About 20% of the employees are making use of this scholarship program.
SEKEM strives for a lifelong learning and offers regular trainings for adult education. For instance, the artists of the Core Program at the Heliopolis University design trainings for employees which include the following areas – movement, speech, poetry and acting as well as fine arts and music. Also in weekly meetings, SEKEM founder Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish raises discussions as well as spiritual questions. These trainings foster new experiences, raise awareness and offer a get away from the daily routine.
40 years ago, SEKEM was founded with the idea of sustainable development and building of a prosperous future for Egypt and the world. For SEKEM, sustainable development is not a fancy topic to talk about, but the core business. SEKEM commits itself to the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” and works to fulfill all 17 SDGs. SEKEM measures its holistic concept with the Sustainability Flower. The flower represents a management, assessment and communication tool symbolizing the concept of sustainable development in its four dimensions: economic life, societal life, cultural life and ecology.