CAIRO: The statistics are harrowing. In Egypt, some 35 percent of the population cannot read and write, placing Egypt among the top 10 countries worldwide with the highest illiteracy rates, according to the United Nations. For most of the programs developed to combat this crisis, children have been at the core.
Most recently, more than 30 Egyptian publishers have teamed up with the Integrated Care Society which is an Egyptian non-profit organization specialized in library development. With the support of USAID, they hope to provide primary public schools across the country with in-house libraries.
Headed by Egyptian publishing powerhouse Nahdet Misr, the National Book Program and Instructional Materials Program (NBP) was designed to facilitate easy access to English and Arabic titles to 5,084 public schools in eight designated governorates. The emphasis is to encourage children to read beyond the curriculum and testing.
We decided that we wanted to gather the entire market together and this is really the first time in Egypt to gather all the publishers together to work hand-in-hand for an economic issue, Dalia Mohamed Ibrahim, vice president of Nahdet Misr Publishing and Printing, and project manager for the NBP says. Regardless of whether the publisher is big or small, we decided to set the same price for all the books.
The Academy for Educational Development (AED), a contractor hired by USAID, originally approached Integrated Care and Nahdet Misr looking to debut the program. A similar program had already been deemed a great success in a number of Gulf countries via American publishing giant Scholastic.
In August 2005, the first phase of the project launched with overwhelming support of the Ministry of Education and Egypt s First Lady, Suzanne Mubarak, who remains dedicated to promoting educational awareness. Nahdet Misr quickly recruited 31 Egyptian publishers, all of whom were eager to contribute their titles to the fastidious final selection chosen to be sent to schools.
We would like to see more good books making their way out into the field, reaching children in schools across Egypt, explains Suzan Iannuzzi, chief of party for the NBP under AED. That s the goal of the project and it would make all of us happy.
Many of the titles are repeats so that more than one copy is available for students in a range in subject. Educators and psychologists were brought in to evaluate hundreds of titles, with project managers stressing the intense scrutiny that went into ensuring that the best, most interesting and most thought provoking titles were chosen for the program.
These are the best books available on the market, emphasizes Farida El-Wakeel, secretary general of Integrated Care. They are being met by incredible enthusiasm by the children. We also want to encourage teachers to use the books to improve the educational system.
Through the consortium of Egyptian publishers, government schools in the selected governorates: Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, Fayoum, Beni Suef, Qena, Menia and Aswan, have already begun to receive the books and their rotating wooden bookshelves. The NBP is supplying 230 titles (about 700 books) to every public primary school involved in the program, which is due to expand to the remaining governorates next year.
Nahdet Misr is, quite literally, seeing to the nuts and bolts of the project. The publishing house oversaw the building of the cupboards, using part of the funding to construct new rotating, mobile, wooden shelves, all of which are identically made using new parts, including locks to prevent theft. The NBP was allotted 134 days; a timeframe Ibrahim admits was tough to meet. She boasts proudly that the cooperation of all parties involved allowed for the project s early completion. It was a real challenge, she says. Today, 80 percent of the books have been delivered and 99 percent are finished printing. Some of the libraries have already opened. We hope to deliver to the last school by next Thursday.
Once all the books are in place, Integrated Care continues its work through monitoring and training. They will follow up with the training of teachers and librarians, ensure that the children are reading the books, that the books are not being locked away in the cupboards, Ibrahim points out. All the people working on this project have all done a really great job, so this is something we as a country should be very proud of.