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Unconventional Education in the Heart of Islamic Cairo

2 February, 2015
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If you walk down the touristic El-Moez street, one of the oldest streets in Egypt's capital, you will reach the Cairo Institute of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CILAS). Here in breathtaking surroundings is a school that is revolutionizing higher education in Egypt.

Karim-Yassin Goessinger, founder and director of CILAS, studied political philosophy and urban governance in the Netherlands, Brazil and France. After completing his graduate studies at Sciences Po Paris, he then abandoned a Harvard PhD scholarship to start CILAS in Egypt. BECAUSE spoke to him to find out more.

Establishing CILAS
"I still wanted to do something academically challenging, rigorous work and play with ideas," Goessinger told BECAUSE. "I've always been drawn to teaching and learning and pedagogy since the age of ten. And why not come back to where my roots are. The vision was to contribute to the reinvention of higher education. This is the overall idea, to create learning environments that are conducive that would bring out creative inquiry, self reflection and civic engagement."

He added that "... as someone who studied philosophy, to me it was about the exploration of ideas but in a more profound way than just calling for 'social justice, bread and freedom'. So it was that revolutionary call that basically resonated and which called me here."

CILAS is registered as an NGO, but do not use this status to gain funding, as a fully functioning academic entity. The study program is interdisciplinary and designed by Goessinger himself. Although it is unaccredited, a degree is issued via CILAS' academically impressive and cosmopolitan teachers.

The program and students
The program provides students with an intellectual foundation. 70-80% of the students are female.

Most of our students have completed undergraduate studies, 80-90," Goessinger stated. "But we are open to anyone with a high school degree of any kind. College dropouts are my favorite. They have the courage to drop out and basically not succumb to the pressure of their parents. The people come here to seek knowledge. We have had applications from age ranges from eighteen to thirty-eight."

The curriculum includes a core mdule, thematic course work, a project (provide a short documentary film related to higher education) and 60 hours' worth of community service. Part of the community service is teaching at a refugee school and social innovation.

CILAS divide the student body into segments; six refugee students, six public high school graduates of any age, six private high school graduates, and six graduates from abroad or international universities in Egypt. "This diversity ensures a proper melting pot," explains Goessigner, who ensures school fees are affordable to all segments of society. This year marks the second class that will be graduating from CILAS. Morning and evening classes are available as well as individual courses.

CILAS teaches in English and aims for its third class (fall 2015) to be bilingually taught to build vocabulary and promote bilingualism. Teaching is done through various mediums such as audio, visual, textbooks, guest speakers, books and even podcasts. CILAS continues to diversify its teaching techniques and uniquely brings together people that would usually not even meet. "We are considering an outdoor space for learning; I visited different gardens and parks to have even a daily allocated space. And we are opening more spots since our capacity now is twenty-four students," Goessinger concluded.

Image: crosby_cj, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Tags CILAS education educational system Egyptian education graduate studies higher education innovation liberal arts non-profit philosophy positive impact thinking