Private Egypt initiative offers free online education

Students at the Egypt British International School in Cairo make their way to class in June. Students around the country now have access to online learning. [Khaled Desouki/AFP]

Students at the Egypt British International School in Cairo make their way to class in June. Students around the country now have access to online learning. [Khaled Desouki/AFP]

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A year after its launch, the Nafham (We Understand) online educational platform continues its efforts to enhance the educational system, according to the project's organisers.

The initiative, launched by a group of young Egyptians, offers online classes for primary and secondary school students by way of an interactive website, nafham.com.

The website uses interactive means such as videos, and social networking sites such as Facebook and YouTube to teach the Egyptian Ministry of Education's approved curricula.

Mohammed Habib, one of the youth in charge of the project, says that of the websites that offer distance learning in Arabic in the Middle East, nafham.com is the only one that provides 6,845 videos for 3,000 primary and secondary level lessons, which it offers to users free of charge.

The site divides each semester into two, and includes videos students can access under each, Habib said. The videos are between 15 and 20 minutes long each and conclude with a series of interactive exercises and activities.

The videos are either produced by Nafham or have previously appeared on educational channels, he said. Many volunteers also make videos, of which around one in five have been prepared by students to assist their classmates.

"Nafham.com tries to provide educational curricula based on practical understanding, application and experimentation, and avoids traditional methods, which have long relied on rote learning without understanding or reflection," Habib said. "The site is also a way to minimise private tutoring, which drains the budget of Egyptian families."

Online education also enables students to focus on their lessons in a way that is not always possible in crowded classrooms, he said.

Statistics from the Egyptian cabinet's Information and Decision Support Centre show there are now more than 60 students per classroom in Egypt's public schools, which makes it more difficult for students to learn in a school setting, Habib said.

Statistics from the Ministry of Education earlier this year indicated that the country's school dropout rate stood at 7%, out of a pre-university student population of around 18 million, he added.

The current number of students far exceeds the capacity of existing schools, Habib said, which "has a negative impact on student achievement and skills development, and at the same time opens the door to dropping out of school".

Initiatives such as Nafham may have a role in solving these problems, he said.

Mustafa Farhat, one of the founders, said the initiative came after Egyptian students began to view the educational process as "a heavy burden, due to traditional teaching methods used in schools, which lack interactivity and critical thinking".

Nafham's founders decided to take advantage of the Internet as an educational tool, as it has been used in successful educational systems around the world, though not in Egypt, Farhat told Al-Shorfa.

"We are trying through this initiative to take the first step in temporarily addressing the shortcomings of the current system, until the renaissance of Egyptian education," Farhat said.

Maya Ahmed, a fourth grade student, said nafham.com helped her avoid having to take private lessons in mathematics and that she intended to use it again in the future.

"One of the advantages of the site is that I can see the video at any hour, and any number of times," she said. "It is good when the teacher is present 24 hours."

Mahmoud Ali, a student in his second year of junior high, said he benefited greatly from the lessons on the site, and that it helped him pass the Arabic language exam.

He said he discovered the site when navigating Facebook a few months ago, like many of his classmates.

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