INTERVIEW: Achievements of education for life

Niveen Wahish , Saturday 18 Dec 2021

Executive director of Egypt’s Education for Life Fund Ghada El-Nashar talks about its early achievements to Al-Ahram Weekly.

Achievements of education for life
El Nashar

Two years ago, NI Capital, a leading Egyptian financial services company, began the initial public offering (IPO) of Egypt’s national charitable education fund.

The fund, named the Education for Life Fund, is modelled after Islamic charitable endowments, or wawf, Ghada El-Nashar, its executive director, told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that it is a national, non-profit fund that aims at the sustainable development of education in Egypt.

With subscriptions worth LE100 million by banks, companies, and leading businessmen, it kickstarted its work in 2021.

The subscribers are investors and partners in the development of education, El-Nashar said, explaining that investments in the fund remain in the names of their owners, though they relinquish returns either forever or for a specific period of time, with these being invested in projects in the education sector.

NI Capital manages the investment, and the fund’s operations are supervised by the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority (EFSA).

Many projects start strong and then falter because of the sustainability of financing. But the new fund tries to overcome this by relying solely on revenues and keeping the seed money intact while being invested for further returns, El-Nashar said.

The fund targets the upgrading of all aspects of education from school premises to curricula. It can build new schools and revamp run-down ones and provide for shortages in school furniture, equipment, or educational tools. It can also train teachers, buy copyrights, and fund scholarships for excelling students. It can support schools for special-needs students.

Focus in its first year of operations has been on technical schools and vocational training. There are 2,500 technical schools affiliated to the Ministry of Education and Technical Education in Egypt covering various specialisations, with technical education being a substitute for the high-school diploma the Thanaweya Amma. Students enrol in technical education after the ninth grade.

The schools include training in trade, agriculture, industry, and hospitality. The fund is upgrading three of these schools in the tracks of the Applied Technology Schools (ATS) already implemented by the Ministry of Education in cooperation with the private sector. These schools focus on training qualified technicians in various specialisations.

One of the schools overseen by the fund is the ElectroMisr School, which is being developed with Schneider Electric Egypt and the European Institute for Cooperation and Development (IECD).

Two more agriculture-centred vocational training schools are being developed by the fund in Minya, one in partnership with Nahr Al-Khair for Development and Agricultural Investment and Environmental Services, an Egyptian company. The other is being revamped in partnership with the Al-Anani Foundation for Development, the development arm of the Daqahliya Agricultural Group.

The ATS schools are designed to address the skills gap in Egypt, El-Nashar said, explaining that they seek to find out what the private sector needs in terms of graduates and then design the curriculum accordingly.

Investors provide the equipment in the schools and give the students the opportunity to train at factory premises, while the fund usually finances the academic partner, explained El-Nashar. The Ministry of Education provides the premises and covers running costs, she added.

The academic partner runs the schools alongside managers from the Ministry of Education. The school team is interviewed by the academic partner to make sure it will be able to work within the new system. If found unsuitable, its members are retrained or transferred to another school working under the old system. More teachers are hired if needed.

The academic partner also provides the international accreditation for certificates earned by students, thus enabling them to work around the world. This also helps to prevent illegal migration, since instead of travelling illegally, graduates can apply for decent jobs with their certificates, El-Nashar said.

The fund also aims to empower girls through its work with technical schools, she said. Girls are accepted in all specialisations, she noted, pointing out that they are already enrolled in ATS schools for construction services and automobiles, areas often viewed as solely for men.

Cultural skills are tackled in the schools, El-Nashar said, through their teaching students not merely technical skills, but also discipline and precision.

The model has proven its efficiency in schools implemented previously by the Ministry of Education with other private-sector partners, including ones specialising in jewelry, telecommunications, retail, automobiles, construction, and home appliances. Students are clamouring to enter these successful schools, noted El-Nashar, because they can land jobs in factories owned by private investors or be recruited quickly by other factories looking for skilled labour.

The students also have the option to enroll in Egypt’s newly created vocational technology universities, she added. The government plans to create eight of these, three of which are already operational and five are in the making. Another option is for students to apply to the Egyptian Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (MSMEDA) for financing to set up their own projects.

El-Nashar said the fund plans to expand its activities through more fundraising in the future. Among its priorities will be developing digital educational platforms, which can represent huge investments in technology and content. The fund also plans to pay greater attention to nursing education, given that the Covid-19 pandemic has proved that Egypt suffers from a shortage of nursing staff, she said.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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