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Technology Helps Put Egyptian Education in a Class Apart

by david.nunes

It is not just history scholars who have it good in Egypt. In a nation where you can visit the relics of a 5000-year-old civilization, students are gaining access to the technologies that will shape the future.

At Cairo’s Nile University graduates can enroll in the first nanotechnology Masters program in the Middle East and Africa, research communications at the Wireless Intelligent Networks Center or study bioinformatics at the Center for Informatics Science.

This dizzying array of high-tech research options is a consequence of Egypt’s avowed intention to become a regional leader in exporting knowledge economy services to the rest of the world—and not just low-grade outsourcing tasks, either.

“We will take the necessary steps to be an alternative location for investment in intellectual capital, solidifying our positioning at a higher segment of the value chain,” Tarek Kamel, Egypt’s Minister for Communications, Information and Technology told the Oxford Business Group, a global consultancy.

Business Process Outsourcing

“Egypt will look to be branded by much more than just business process outsourcing and call center services,” he adds in the group’s 2010 Egypt Report. “We will endeavor to use innovation as a primary driver for future growth.”

On the outskirts of Cairo, Nile University is a prime example of that ambition.

“Egypt is aiming to double or triple broadband penetration in three to four years. ”

The government Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the not-for-profit Egyptian Foundation for Technology Education founded Nile University in 2006 as part of Egypt’s National Telecommunications and Information Technology Strategic Plan.

The plan envisages building a strong, export-based IT sector for Egypt and is a cornerstone of the country’s job creation strategy.

According to reports, outsourcing, call centers, and other support services are currently bringing in about 40,000 jobs a year and the Egyptian IT sector as a whole could be worth US$10 billion in 10 years’ time, up from about $1.1 billion in the first nine months of 2010.

Expanding Broadband Penetration

To support the plan, Egypt is embarking on ambitious infrastructure build-outs, aiming to double or triple broadband penetration in the next three to four years. But providing the skills to service the sector will take more than one university.

That is why the government and the World Economic Forum launched a program called the Egyptian Education Initiative (EEI) in 2006.

The initiative is designed to revitalize Egypt’s creaking school and college system; with the largest population in the Arab world, the country has the largest educational structure in the Middle East and North Africa, and deficiencies lead many parents to seek private tuition.

But it is also giving IT a boost. By 2008 (the latest date for which figures have been published), the EEI had been responsible for handing out 70,000 PCs and providing 200,000 training sessions across 2000 schools, 17 universities, and 1000 information technology clubs.

In addition, it had given digital literacy training to more than 66,000 teachers and administrators, and almost 4000 university administrative staff and faculty members, connected 1100-plus schools to the Internet, and given e-learning labs to all public universities.

Disadvantaged students

The zeal for introducing technology in the classroom is even benefiting disadvantaged students.

In Alexandria, for example, the Arab Academy for Science and Technology two years ago helped the Asdaa Association for Serving the Hearing Impaired get deaf students involved in a global robot-building competition.

This year, a team from Asdaa won the national heats and went on to represent Egypt at the FIRST LEGO League World Festival in Atlanta picking up an Innovative Solution Award for Falcon Eye, a smart sign-language interpreter.

It may not be the kind of IT export that Egypt’s rulers had planned, but it certainly would not hurt for a country hoping to make its mark as a global technology innovator.

Jason Deign is a freelance writer located in Barcelona, Spain

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