Complex Made Simple

Baidu, Tahrir Academy and ITWORX’s plans to spear-head educational reform in Egypt

During a panel discussion over the future of education in the digital era, Baidu, Tahrir Academy and ITWORX announced their plans to lead educational reform in Egypt. The discussion, which was part of the two-day Creative Industry Summit at AUC, revolved around the positive and negative repercussions of social and digital media on Education in Egypt, and the impact of internet adoption and technological growth. The discussion was moderated by Nader Abdel Kader, Researcher in Nile University and involved Mohamed Dawood, Marketing Director of Baidu Egypt; Heba Ghannam, PR and Media Outreach Manager of Tahrir Academy, Essam Makhlouf, Service Delivery Manager of ITWORX, and Dina Boraei, Dean of School of Continuing Education at AUC

The discussion started off with Mohamed Dawood explaining the transformational impact of the internet and technology on education drawing on his own personal experience “I started off as a Software Engineer however, 15 years later, I developed into a Marketing professional. This transformation would’ve not been possible without the help of the internet which introduced me to great content, information and data that armed me with the tools needed to unlearn old skills and relearn much needed new skills. You learn that you have to go through life by continuously teaching yourself, and the moment you stop teaching yourself, the moment you become obsolete. Recently, I’ve been reading about the emergence of new sciences and its impact on the workplace, and I’ve discovered very interesting facts- that old sciences evolve and new ones emerge every 3 years on average. This has very interesting implications, that you as an individual need to continuously evolve- by learning new skills and educating yourself- to cope with new realities and changes in the workplace, otherwise you will no longer be relevant. And this is where search engines like Baidu play a role. Search engines in general, and Baidu in specific, aims to empower individuals with information, and to arm them with data that can help them build new skills and experiences. At Baidu, we have over 1.5 billion search queries globally and on Hoa123, we have over 10 million unique visitors every month from Egypt alone. If anything, this reflects people’s growing appetite for information and the potential role search engines like Baidu can play in educating people and updating their skill-sets”.

Dawood also added that search engines like Baidu are ‘positively disrupting’ as well as ‘revolutionizing’ the traditional teaching methods, that promotes one-way, top-down teaching approaches, where educators or teachers assign or spoon-feed specific content to students. He explained that with the rise of the digital and informational age, the traditional approach is no longer valid, as students are now always seeking new content from multiple sources and platforms, whether social media, search engines, blogs etc. This complicates the role of educators and learners since there is so much information and content platforms that they need to be aware of and work with for their own advantage and that of the students. It is also confusing for students because there are so many sources of content and information that needs to be filtered and digested. Hence, Dawood explains, “there’s a need to educate both teachers and students. Educate teachers on how to acknowledge and embrace these changes and work on how to make that change work for their advantage. For students, there is also a need to educate them how to search properly for information, and how to filter through tons and tons of data to reach the information required, and also how to judge the credibility of this information. At Baidu, we have a plan to reach out to the largest number of schools and universities in an effort to help students and educators learn how to adapt to the new realities of the digital world and embrace that change. We hope there is support from the government to help us penetrate public schools and universities to bring about that change and prepare our upcoming generations for the digital era”.

The discussion then shifted around the need to make advantage of technology in Education and implement e-learning solutions. Here, Essam Makhlouf expressed the need to create and roll-out a social learning management system that is designed to enhance the teaching process for teachers, make learning fun and insightful for students, and facilitate communication and collaboration between school administrators, teachers and parents. He proposed two types of learning: 1) Blended Learning- which is learning through the online delivery of content and instruction, with some element of student control over time, place, path or pace, and 2) Flipped Learning- where students learn new material online by watching video lectures, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) would be now done in class, with teachers offering more personalized guidance and interaction with students, instead of lecturing. Essam added that e-learning solutions have already been deployed in 123 schools in the UAE by ITWORX, used by 12,112 students and 1,780 teachers. According to a survey taken by one of the teachers through ITWORX’s e-learning solution, 94% of the students thought that e-learning improved their interaction with teachers, whereas 69% said it facilitated the assignment process, and finally 88% felt it enhanced communication between their teachers and peers. He added that, “At ITWORX, we aspire to empower all Egyptian students with modern educational tools and e-learning solutions and are currently working on fulfilling our vision by talking with the Egyptian government on initiatives to avail e-learning solutions in public schools”. He added that “e-learning solutions can cause a step-change in the educational system in Egypt and result in much-needed transformational change and cost savings”

Heba Ghannam followed the conversation shedding light on the importance of coupling strong educational content with e-learning solutions and technologies to empower students and educators. “Technology is crucial for educational reform, however, it is not sufficient on its own, as it’s merely a ‘tool’ or a ‘medium’ of communication. Hence, it needs to be empowered with strong content, and this is where the need for Tahrir Academy rose. Tahrir Academy is an online space that creates engaging learning experiences to stimulate the minds of Egyptian youth, empowering them to think, choose and decide. Our vision is to build a generation of critical thinkers, knowledge seekers and future leaders by creating mind-stimulating learning experiences through the power of the community and the internet. Through Tahrir Academy, students gain knowledge easily, ask questions freely and so learn to choose, becoming “fahim mish 7afez” . As a companion on their journey through school, The Tahrir Academy platform is students gateway to realizing their individual path. When they open the door to new ways of learning, they will open their minds to more knowledge and approach life and its obstacles with a greater power: the power of thinking”.

Ghannam added that the name of the game in Education is to leverage the power of social networks and create good user generated content, which is what Tahrir Academy does. “Tahrir Academy is creating a game-changing community movement, built on contributions by Egyptian professionals who are recognized for the role they play in tackling the nation’s greatest challenge: education. Tahrir Academy has expert resources to help Egyptian professionals turn their knowledge into mind-stimulating learning experiences for Egyptian youth.

Ghannam also highlighted the importance of using creativity and innovation in education to help students and educators in the learning process. “The reason behind Tahrir Academy’s success and reach is its innovative approach to imparting knowledge via short, artistic and simple videos. Tahrir Academy’s mass reach is achieved through its blended learning approach that combines technology with the classroom environment.

“The roadmap to educational reform involves building a new ecosystem involving educators, students, internet and technology providers (like Baidu & ITWORX) and content creators (like Tahrir Academy)” concluded Nader. “‘I’m hopeful that one day in the near future, those fragmented efforts, whether by Baidu, Tahrir Academy or ITWORX will be integrated under a unified vision by our new government. This conversation is just a start and an indication we are moving in the right direction”