This first-of-its-kind learning institute is giving Egyptian students new hope

This first-of-its-kind learning institute is giving Egyptian students new hope

Officers chase a high school student in one of the peaceful demonstrations for their right in fair exams. More than one student were arrested during the demonstrations. Credit: Mohamed Meteab/Vetogate.com

Officers chase a high school student in one of the peaceful demonstrations for their right in fair exams. More than one student were arrested during the demonstrations. Credit: Mohamed Meteab/Vetogate.com

In the Egyptian education system, the students’ future depends on their performance in their last year of high school. You could argue that it is the same all over the world. Well, not exactly.

In many countries, the SATs or the other exams students take in their final year of high school matter a great deal, as getting a good score increases their chances of getting accepted into more and better universities.

Students get to choose their major, which determines not only what they will be mainly studying, but also what will probably be their line of work, at least for a while.

In Egypt, however, high school graduates have limited choices of majors. They can only choose depending on their finals grades. For example, this year’s freshmen in Egypt can’t study medicine unless they get a score of 98.4 percent or more on their official General Secondary Examinations. To study pharmacy, they need to get a score of 98 percent at least, and so on.

Because of this system, many students find themselves unable to study what they like and obligated to settle for the major their scores impose.

Universities in Egypt don’t take into consideration volunteering or extracurricular activities when assessing a student’s application. The only thing that really counts is the score. For this reason, many people, especially parents, emphasize the role of the official exams. Some parents go as far as to make their children quit other activities, from sports to different extracurricular courses, in order to focus on studying for the official exams at the end of their last year of high school. Even the parents who can barely afford tutoring pay thousands of pounds on their children’s education.

This year’s final examinations were even worse than usual. The questions in more than one exam were leaked, whether online during the exam or before that during revision sessions, leading to mass cheating in some schools. The Ministry of Education came down hard on the students throughout the country, rescheduling the other exams and making them much more difficult, but without canceling the exams that were leaked.

As a result, the average scores this year were much lower than usual, while those who managed to get away with cheating have much better scores. Egyptian newspapers reported the news of examinees fainting and breaking down during and after exams. Although this happens every year, this year, such incident were coupled with at least one suicide resulting from the tough General Secondary Examinations.

However, all hope is not lost. Unknown to many, Egypt has the ITI (Information Technology Institute), which was created by the Ministry of Communication to give university graduates across Egypt the opportunity to study IT-related fields in a postgraduate, nine-month-long program. To study at the ITI, applicants must be recent university graduates and must pass the entrance examinations and interviews. The process is highly selective, with selections being merit-based and not limited to a certain major. In the Game Art track last year for example, selected students included Law, Arts, Pharmacy, Fine Arts and Applied Arts majors.

“ITI has been providing scholarships for postgraduates in IT for more than 20 years to fulfill the needs of the IT industry in Egypt,” Yasmeen Diab, Deputy and Technical Manager of the System Development and Gaming Center of Excellence at ITI, said. “The nine-month program in ITI provides 26 tracks. Through a knowledge transfer program, more than 80 percent of graduates find job opportunities before their graduation.”

The Game Art track, specifically, is becoming increasingly popular, as the ITI is the only recognized place in Egypt where students can learn game art and development.

ITI teams receive awards for the second, third and fourth places in the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition. Credit: Noha Elmessiri/GYV

ITI teams receive awards for the second, third and fourth places in the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition. Credit: Noha Elmessiri/GYV

Students are encouraged to apply to competitions and grants. Last year, the Game track graduates participated in the Microsoft Imagine Cup competition and won the second, third and fourth places in the nationals. They are currently about to launch their own company.

Maryam Saeed, one of the graduates of the Game Development track last year, improved a lot due to her participation in the institute’s program. “Although it was only for 9 months, the program was enough for me to learn and change,” she said. “I was being prepared technically and personally to launch a career with a new opportunity. After graduation, I realized these nine months prepared me for a whole new life.”

A career shift in Egypt is not a very popular concept, as most people stick to one job, or move through several jobs in the same line of work their entire career. However, with an opportunity like this, Egyptian graduates can have certificates in fields that are widely different, which gives them a chance to find work in several fields, instead of just one. Egyptian youths hope the impact of the ITI, from reducing the unemployment rate to shaping skilled employees, will prompt the Ministry of Education to establish more similar institutes.

Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV

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