Taking the initiative

Deena Douara
7 Min Read

Egyptian students have stopped relying solely on traditional education

Can we? asks the first part of Zedny s slogan. The answer amongst Egyptian youth today seems to be yes . but with a little help.

Young Egyptians are increasingly turning to alternative venues for self-enrichment and career help. What may be lacking in the educational system is being found elsewhere.

One example of just such a program is the ambitious Zedny, a name taken from a Quranic verse meaning increase for me. Although difficult to define and confine its many initiatives, Zedny is essentially a center providing professional-level courses covering a wide array of human and career development interests, from communication and mind mapping, to new stock market and children s development programs.

Courses are taught by experts utilizing multimedia and innovation. The best part is, courses are offered for an average of less than LE 50.

We have advantages, says Rawiah Ismail, Zedny NGO program manager, speaking of access to good education and professional work experiences. So we have a responsibility.

Omar El-Shenity, a founder and original board member, as well as leader of the NGOs and management business unit at Zedny, echoes Ismail s sentiments.

It s a normal response, he says of applying staff experience in top universities and multi-national companies toward socially responsible initiatives.

Although training is affordable enough for those who can t afford other enrichment programs, attendees come from a wide range of backgrounds. Even for those who can afford full-priced seminars, Zedny s affordability ensures that students can attend many courses, not just one, says El-Shenity.

Attendee Maissera El-Leithy has done just that. Impressed with her first (and the most popular) course at Zedny – the broad Basic Course – she then went on to take Communication Skills 1 and 2 and the NGOs course. El-Leithy took the courses to help in her career teaching at a university, and in her community service activities.

It affected my style of presenting lectures, gave me new ideas to try, which, El-Leithy says, have succeeded with her students.

Regarding her work with NGOs, she said the courses opened new issues for me, like legality and teamwork issues. We re not used to teamwork here in Egypt.

Program Manager Ismail agrees that civil society and NGOs tend to be lacking professionalism in Egypt, but believes in their importance in developing Egyptian society.

El-Leithy extols the teaching methods used as well, which are mostly presented in Arabic with English slides, and CD recordings available for purchase. It s interesting, there s a thread to follow . examples are used to clarify.

Zedny has had approximately 120 volunteers and over 25,000 participants enrolled (with an estimated 20 percent being repeat attendees). The project has branched out into Alexandria, Port Said and Mansoura, and is to open in Tanta.

There is another type of career-development program spreading through universities that one blogger praised, saying it changed [my brother], made a better person of him.

Engineering students are supplementing their university curriculums through peer-to-peer workshops, long a part of the American University in Cairo, but now spreading to other universities.

Abdel-Rahman Wahba, a third year student at Ain Shams University, has been involved with the Annual Conference for Engineering Students (ACES) for two years, as a participant and organizer. The conference is actually just the culmination of training that participants partake in, including business issues, crisis management, creative thinking techniques and self-development.

The project started when engineering interns and graduates found that they were missing essential qualities at work. Ain Shams graduates people who are technically very good but lacking in interpersonal skills and further knowledge required by fresh engineering graduates, says Wahba.

It makes a difference when you learn young, says Wahba. You can apply it at university, then it becomes embedded.

Their hope is to close the gap between market needs and fresh graduates.

Wahba is certain the experience has been successful, citing top companies that have hired participants.

Within two years the program has become so popular that last year approximately 1,000 applicants applied, from a class of 9,000-10,000.

Perhaps a greater measure of success though is attendee response. Blogger MoonLightShadow, a past participant, had this to say on his Web site: Attending it made me reach the peak of my happiness and hyperactivity.

I felt the passion for it, as if I was a part of it. Found tears coming to my eyes, seeing their dream coming true. Something that they worked for very hard through the months to make it see the light. I’m really proud of them all . Their positive energy was spreading all over the place.

One of the guest lecturers that participated in ACES, as well as private workshops and sessions at Ebdaa Training Center, is Dr. Fatma Ezzat, a psychologist who is finding increased demand for her emotional intelligence training, aimed at increasing self-knowledge. She prefers discussion and interaction, a sort of group therapy, as she covers the topics of anger management, logical thinking, impulse control, self-esteem, self-respect and self-awareness.

She claims that youth today are underestimated. They have very high intelligence. They are different than the picture people have of them.

She adds, Egyptian youth, if you just give some concern for them, they ll come after you [seeking your guidance].

They have done just that with Ezzat, keeping her for three hours instead of the scheduled two.Zedny, ACES, Ezzat s training, and many others are all initiatives started due to a sense that something was missing from formal education: from lack of teamwork and presentation skills, to an underdeveloped sense of self. None are profit-making ventures but, rather, stem from either an explicit or an unstated religious sense of duty. And all have been highly successful and are only expanding, in scope, in numbers and, most importantly, in hope.

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