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Changing Attitudes Means More Girls in School

EGYPT GILO girls story"Please educate me if you love me," was nine-year old Yasmine's plea to her father. Yasmine, the second youngest child of nine, was about to miss the chance of enrolling in school again. Her youngest brother was already set to follow the path of her three older brothers, who have since earned technical high school diplomas. Her four older sisters did not receive any education.

Yasmine was among the girls who were not in school identified by World Education staff on the USAID-funded Girls Improved Learning Programs program (GILO) in Egypt. She had been approached by a GILO's Community Education Team (CET), a group of local community members who believe in the importance of education. GILO trains these members to look at educational problems, identify solutions, and advocate the necessity of educating girls.

Like many girls born to rural families in Upper Egypt, Yasmine's father believes that her place is at home. Her duty, as he sees it, is to help her father care for the field and help her mother with cattle and household chores. He is of the opinion that educating his daughters would result in harassment in the school or on the streets.

But the CET members were determined. They continued to meet with Yasmine's father, explaining to him that educating his daughter would benefit not only Yasmine, but her family, and the surrounding community. They told him that Yasmine could look after her younger brother at school. She could even become a physician or an engineer. The CET members said that education was important for boys and girls alike, and that depriving girls of education was an injustice frowned upon by their religion.

Yasmine's father was still hesitant, saying that he had not yet applied for a national number (national identification card) for Yasmine, as the procedures would be too time-consuming. A CET member offered to help and asked for Yasmine's birth certificate. The father asked one of his daughters to bring the birth certificate from his documents' hiding place. The daughter brought him another document, which caused him to rebuke her for failing to differentiate between the two documents.

The girl felt humiliated, and responded through tears: "Had you educated me I would have been able to read and recognize the difference between the two documents." Her words stunned her father, who suddenly saw the many ways she could have benefitted from such knowledge. The girl's speech reinforced the argument of the CET members.

Yasmine attended her first school day full of joy and gratitude to those who had helped her gain access to education and a chance to realize her full potential.

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From Literacy Classes to Learning Carnivals

I realize the importance of learning in my life. It is a chance to have a better future.
– Adult learner, Education Reform Project, Egypt.

For adult learners, the classroom presents challenges different from those of younger students. Adults have greater responsibilities at work and home which compete with their focus on school. For some, the frustrations of learning can outweigh the joys—though when there are creative answers to making literacy classes more interesting, those frustrations can be abated. To better engage learners, World Education has developed the “learning carnival” approach through the Egypt Education Reform Program (ERP). Learning carnivals are an innovative classroom methodology that transforms literacy classes from a traditional educational environment to one in which learners play, laugh, and learn with others, while also acquiring information and skills. Teachers notice that not only are classes more fun, but students actively participate and develop skills more quickly. The carnivals also help keep current learners in literacy classes and motivate new students to enroll.

World Education Egypy Literacy Class
Literacy classes get parents more involved in their children's education.

At the learning carnival, educational games and activities focus on topics such as child rearing, early childhood development, and environmental issues. They can also include how to make simple educational toys from local materials and how to play games at home with children. Practicing new literacy skills through arts and crafts and acquiring vocational skills such as sewing are also part of the carnivals. In addition, each carnival has puppet shows dealing with specific issues relevant to the learners’ lives, such as the importance of literacy and the issuance of identification cards. Also covered are sensitive topics, such as early marriage, which are difficult to discuss in traditional class rooms, but become easier to discuss when performing role-playing skits that reflect the realities of daily life.

World Education is working with the Adult Education Authority in Egypt as part of the ERP, a five-year program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to improve the quality of Egypt’s education system. Key parts of the program are increasing enrollment, learner retention, and success rates of adult students entering community literacy classes. World Education supports the Adult Education Authority by helping to engage community members and parents in literacy initiatives.

World Education helps literacy teachers promote active learning, which engages students and teachers alike by linking content to songs, games, and even dance. Active learning also places the student at the center of the learning process, and encourages reflection, discussion and collaboration. Over the past two years, World Education and the Adult Education Authority have stimulated an impressive demand for literacy classes with fun, creative activities including learning carnivals.

Illiteracy often deters parents, especially women, from advocating for their children’s education and becoming involved in school committees. With the confidence they gain in the classroom, women are able to advocate for better classroom conditions, training for teachers, and additional resources. Participants in the program share new skills with their children and become more involved in their education, which is part of the Egypt Education Reform Program’s overall goal to improve community participation in education. As one learner says, "We are better able to help our children with their education."

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Improving Health and Literacy for Women

World Education Egypt Literacy
Young Egyptian women learn valuable personal and family health information in World Ed's integrated health and literacy program.

In Egypt, women are learning more about their health as they learn to read through World Education's integrated literacy initiative. Funded by the Ford Foundation, World Education's integrated literacy project uses health information as content for literacy programs. The project was so successful that today, prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, breastfeeding, and health care for infants are covered in the nation's core literacy curriculum through Egypt's national adult literacy network, the Adult Education Authority (AEA).

The curriculum and teacher-training program were developed, tested, and implemented in cities throughout Egypt, with over 10,000 learners—mostly women and adolescent girls—and 500 teachers. The Social Research Center of the American University in Cairo designed and conducted a research study to document the impact of the program on the health knowledge and attitudes of literacy teachers, students, and associated households.

Teachers and students rave about the new materials. For many, it was their first exposure to health education-and education itself. "The new health and literacy book has encouraged my illiterate daughter, who didn't get any schooling, to attend the literacy class," said one mother.

Teachers and learners also found the materials and content to be appropriate and useful in literacy courses, as well as a successful way of communicating important health information. Khadisha, a student in Cairo reflected, "I am married and have children. However, this is the first time I have been introduced… to the relationship of breastfeeding and the protection it provides. I fed my first baby sugar and water instead of sticking to breast milk. I regret that now."

As adolescent girls and women gain literacy skills through this project, they also learn how to take better care of themselves and their children. World Education's efforts in Egypt continue and will resonate for years to come. Most importantly, as children grow up healthier, they will learn from their mothers that health and education go hand-in-hand.

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