UNICEF, education ministry partner to activate role of student unions

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By Safaa Abdoun

CAIRO: “Student unions will play a central role in…providing opportunities for students’ personal development and promoting democracy, citizenship, positive values and life skills such as critical thinking, decision making and communication,” UNICEF Representative Philippe Du Amelle said.

In an effort to instill the principles of self-expression and democracy in young Egyptians, the Ministry of Education in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Misr Al-Mahrousa, a non-governmental organization, launched a project to activate the role of student unions at schools.

“Today we are launching a program that integrates the principles of child-friendly schools, which are inclusive, child-centered and include democratic participation. It builds on the unique asset each student represents and encourages and promotes their participation at al levels,” said Du Amelle.

The project aims at empowering students, teachers, social workers, school principals and inspectors to engage in developing schools and the surrounding communities through student unions.

The General Coordinator of Student Unions, Ahmed Sayyad Ibrahim, said they will work on activating the role of student unions, particularly in elementary and middle schools all over the country.

“The change that took place in Egypt after the January was a wake up call for students, they all looking to play a part whether in school or out of it,” he said.

“The main goal of the state is to build a good citizen,” said Chairman of Misr Al-Mahrousa Mohamed Behsir.

“This is done through culture and education — and education is not only through academia, but extracurricular activities have an equally important role in building the generation,” he added.

Attending the launch was Deputy Minister of Education Reda Abou Serie, who said, “Students have to learn early on to express their opinion and that all opinions are respected.”

They also want to change students’ mindset about how exam grades are everything. “Our mission in the ministry at the moment is put an emphasis on extracurricular activities,” said Abou Serie.

“A transition between childhood and adulthood, this moment in life is a critical one as it is when adolescents need to find ways and opportunities to express their potential and feel they can contribute to and integrate [in] society,” said Du Amelle, pointing out that 22 percent of the Egyptian population are adolescents.

“Through civic engagement and participation, young people can significantly contribute to the building and designing the future of Egypt. Providing [them] with the opportunity to actively engage in the life of their communities does not only help young people to develop skills, experience and ambitions, but also tapping into a formidable source of energy for the future,” he explained.

The Ministry of Education and UNICEF held three regional consultative meetings with students to discuss the ministerial decree and regulations pertaining to student unions as well as assessing the necessary training needs. The first was in Tanta, the second in Assiut and the third in Cairo.

Discussions covered the means to design a program that would activate the role of student unions, build their capacity to develop students’ life skills and positive values and empower students to participate in the decision-making process as well as in the development of their schools and communities.

As part of the launch celebration, officials engaged in a dialogue with elementary school students from governorates all over Egypt.

Concerns and suggestions student made included allocating places for student unions on school grounds, holding awareness sessions on leadership and life skills and the roles of student unions.

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