In 1938, prominent Egyptian intellectual Taha Hussein wrote that students in Egypt merely memorize information. If Mr Hussein were alive this day and age, his complaint might not have changed. According to education researcher Farida Makar at the American University in Cairo, despite slight changes, some subjects' curricula can be traced as far back as the 1960s. Relying heavily on memorization, they turn the whole educational process into a grade and test-oriented job, explained school principal Inji Hafed.
"Often you hear students complaining that exam questions were not from the curriculum and this is because the idea of testing higher thinking skills and creativity does not exist," she said. This approach produces students who are unable to transfer their learning or develop analytical or reasoning skills. This, according to Hafed, fosters an attitude towards learning and success in life that is so limited and disappointing.
"You end up with college graduates who have no talents or skills, not even problem solving skills," the principal stated.
In an attempt to enliven the field and provide new ideas, the GrEEK Campus in Downtown Cairo last week hosted a two-day 'Eduvation' summit, pairing education with innovative technology. On 1st and 2nd April, more than 80 speakers from the MENA region contributed.
Among the innovative methods suggested was integrating the technology of augmented reality. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality provides visuals as a part of reality instead of being immersed in an imaginative world, in addition to not requiring putting on glasses.
"The technology ties imagination with reality," said Usama Sabry, head of web solutions and graphics at the Arab Academy for Science Technology and Maritime Transport in Alexandria. Students no longer need to look at old, printed photographs and try to imagine how a lung looks like up close, or what the architectural details of a historical building may, he stated.
Sabry explained that visuals associated with the curricula of each stage can be all made available through an application on mobile phones and tablets. The technology could also be used on field trips, where some cites have been historically damaged, and some buildings destroyed. The visuals would show the complete image.
The three dimensional visuals can be rotated and scaled, as well as downloaded for offline uses. However, there are serious limitations to its present development as an educational tool. The ready-made visuals can only be bought, not developed on an open source basis. "Augmented reality is like a black box, nobody is allowed to approach," Sabry criticized.
Holograms were also on Sabry's new menu. Hologram technology is now easily accessible through putting a TV screen over a reflective surface to bounce the image into view for an attractive, 3D explanation of learning material. "These technologies have to be integrated right away. They are already around three years old. If they are not applied now, we will keep falling behind," Sabry asserted.
The Eduvation Summit also discussed e-books, infographics, the Montessori method, and blended learning, a method which delivers content and instruction through combining both digital and interactive media with in-person teaching.
Offering more on the fun side, 'gamification' of the curricula was introduced. Engineer and managing director of Wonderlearn Wael Elmayyah gave a demo of learning through playing, where missions were unlocked through mathematical equations. The technique is defined as the use of game elements and game designing in non-game contexts, Elmayyah explained.
"A key in gamification is not to constantly remind the student the purpose is education," Elmayyah said. Gamification aids in testing and assessment with less stress, he added.
Presenting the steps of the gamification process, Elmayyah said that that the first one is listing the learning objectives, followed by defining target players, designing game dynamics, choosing a game type, and designing its mechanics. "Anything you add to the current system is going to enhance students' learning. The issue is that it is all happening within a framework which rewards memorization," Makar asserted.
Through gamificication of learning, there must be a balance between rules, and freedom to choose. However, such a concept needs to be the basis of the whole educational system. Otherwise, graduates in Egypt will continue to have certificates but no initiative, as Hafed puts it.
Image: Kenneth Lu, shared via Creative Commons license CC BY 2.0