“The distinction of the International Applied Technology School [IATS] model is not only a result of its equipment, curricula, teachers, or management systems. I saw that the students had acquired unique competencies in their specialties in a single year, along with self-confidence and the ability to highlight what they had learned through distinguished communication skills,” said Reda Hegazi, minister of education and technical education, at the opening ceremony of the IATS Induction Camp that took place last week at the Education City in Giza governorate.
“I personally saw how their technical skills were combined with the ability to use modern technology and advanced devices within a framework of a commitment to standards of quality, health, and occupational safety and all at the hands of distinguished and carefully selected teachers. These students, enrolled in international schools, represent a new future for technical education, summing up the meanings of quality education, citizenship and belonging through mature and distinguished technical personne,” Hegazi said.
The five-day Induction Camp qualifies new students for the IATS in a model introduced by Workforce Egypt, a US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded project intended to support the Ministry of Education and Technical Education in transforming the quality and market relevance of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions and programmes in Egypt.
The overall aim is to foster market driven skills among the students, thereby creating sustainable job opportunities for graduates, ensuring employee retention and reducing turnover through partnerships built with private and public business sector partners, said Mohamed Fawzi, deputy chief of the Workforce Egypt project.
According to Hegazi, one of the main missions of the schools is providing Egyptian-qualified manpower for the labour market and preparing students to be able to develop themselves on the job and keep on learning throughout their lives even after graduation. He said that the international applied Technology schools are the first of their kind in the field of technical education in Egypt and that their number has doubled from five schools to 10 in just one year.
The 10 schools have advanced specialisations such as teaching artificial intelligence (AI), financial marketing, modern trade relations, robotics, facility management technology, cosmetics, computer programming, and others.
Mohamed Megahed, deputy minister for technical education, explained to Al-Ahram Weekly that the specialisations of the schools are compatible with the professions needed by their industrial partners. “The ministry’s experts, together with the industrial partners’ experts, design the study programme and determine the general and professional competencies necessary. They may compare them with international practices in the same specialisation, and the study units and teacher and student guides are designed based on these considerations,” Megahed said.
Workforce Egypt is developing 10 international applied Technology schools out of a total of 70 that the ministry has established so far, Hegazi said. The total number of students in technical education, according to the statistics for the academic year 2022-23, is about 2.3 million, while the total number of students in applied technology schools is a few thousand, “as ensuring quality requires a low class density (20 to 25) students per class and a large number of these schools will begin operating in the 2023-24 and following academic years,” Megahed said.
According to Amr Soliman, more than 8,000 students applied for international applied Technology schools in 2023-24 as a way out of the threat of being judged on the results of the Thanawiya Amma exams at the end of high school in Egypt.
“I knew about these schools from the media and applied for my son and daughter. They refused at first, but I persuaded them as I had suffered a lot with their siblings and the economic situation now is very hard to cope with if one only has a traditional education,” Manal Ahmed told the Weekly.
She added that the international applied Technology schools “prepare students for the labour market, and they have paid summer training as well”.
Hanan Ibrahim, also the mother of a college-aged student, agreed with Ahmed that the fees of the schools, from LE250 to LE500, play a big role in encouraging students to apply. Her son was accepted in an IATS to study programming.
For Wafaa Hassan, the mother of Moez who was also accepted in El Sewedy IATS, these schools help students to know their specialisation before applying to university. “This kind of school represents a bright point in the future of technical education and qualified manpower in Egypt and the Middle East,” she said.
Basmala Hany told the Weekly about her experience in her first academic year at an IATS. She had looked for an alternative secondary school because she was in an experimental English school. “I was afraid not to have good grades in the Thanawiya Amma, so I searched on the Internet and this was the only international school for programming that I found,” she said.
She was accepted after passing three assessments, the first consisting of four exams in maths, English, IQ and nahw (Arabic grammar), the second being an electronic career interest exam, and the last being an interview. She said her mother had “supported me in choosing the international applied Technology schools.”
At the Induction Camp she attended there was a human development company that taught students how to rely on themselves, how to deal with each other as a team, and how to organise activities. “They also organised sessions for us to explain certain concepts, such as bullying,” Hany said, adding that “at the beginning of the school year, we defined the idea of the capstone, which is the project that we will work on, where we identify a problem facing the country or increase the quality of what we see without problems.
“We then go to several sites and do research, then there is a questionnaire, and then we determine the target audience. We work on business management as well, because we also study entrepreneurship,” Hany said.
“During the school year, the company follows us in artistic activities, drama, and physical education. We learn how to deal with each other in a friendly way with respect, and there is diversity in the team.” She added that in the human development sessions, the students learn how to balance life and work and how to solve problems.
“I was able to come in first place out of 100 students in presenting the capstone project in front of a committee of professors,” Hany said. For this reason, she was chosen by the school administration to present one of the projects in front of US First Lady Jill Biden after three days of rehearsals.
“We asked her about internships in America, and then we learned that we already have a summer programme outside Egypt, either as a scholarship from the school or as a cultural exchange scholarship in the second or third year,” Hany said.
After one academic year and at the beginning of a new academic year, Hany confirmed that she felt a big difference in her personality, as she has become more independent and more self-reliant. “The learning method requires the student’s participation in research to obtain information and cooperate with the teacher in explaining it to the rest of the students,” she said.
“I am now trying to obtain training in software, and I dream of working in the field of programming in a company of my own,” Hany said.
Emad El Sewedy, chair of the Board of El Sewedy Cables, said that the El Sewedy IATS in 6 October city is the first specialised school in Egypt to graduate students in programming, programme development, Internet programming, and everything required by the digital transformation that Egypt is witnessing, as he put it.
“The Covid-19 pandemic showed the importance of our need for programmers, so we decided to teach students who specialise in programming and are qualified from a practical and personal standpoint in addition to their academic qualifications,” El Sewedy said.
He added that the job of the school was to discover the talents of students and qualify them to be able to work in different jobs. He said that the ultimate goal of the El Sewedy IATS, which specialises in applied technology and software, was to raise the value of technicians and provide job opportunities for them, especially given their proficiency in the English language and the world demand for Egyptian programmers.
Modern business is also being taught, notably at the Fathallah IATS, the first to be opened based on entrepreneur Alaa Fathallah’s words. “Fathallah is the first international school for modern commerce,” and he believes that “the students should be able to join the labour market directly on graduating. Vocational education will be behind the Egyptian renaissance,” its director said.
According to Fawzi, the students at the international applied Technology schools, where 1050 students are accepted this year, are made up equally of boys and girls. Each school from the 10 that have been opened up to now has a governance board made up of representatives of business including companies such as Fathallah, Fresh, El Sewedy, Misr Insurance, EverGrow, Deif Allah, Mobica, Mountain View, CFC, Eva Pharma, and Eva Cosmetics.
“As we work in education and agriculture areas, we chose to establish an AI vocational school in Assiut in Upper Egypt at a cost of LE10 million, in addition to providing labs, equipment, and know how that has attracted students from all over Egypt,” Ahmed Deif Allah, CEO of the Deif Allah Group, told the Weekly.
Deif Allah believes that the social responsibility of the group has driven it to work with the government to face the unemployment that represents a major challenge to the stability of the country.
This is also clear through the way that Ahmed Khalifa runs the EverGrow IATS. “The philosophy of the group is to build a vocational school in each industrial zone to connect qualified manpower with the development of heavy industry in Egypt and the Group’s branches in Algeria and Oman,” Deputy Chair and CEO of EverGrow Specialised Fertilisers Khalifa said.
The managing director of Mobica also said that the needs of the labour market have changed and that his company needs workers who are creative and are aware of the latest technologies inside and outside of Egypt.
But education is not the only way forward for development, according to Mona Rabbat, chair of the Armanious Foundation. She said students should be proud to choose this kind of education and asked more companies to participate in the experience.
Jana Abdel-Maksoud, 14, had applied to the Eva IATS as she has always liked taking things apart and putting them back together again.
The last partner to join the initiative is Mountain View. Abu Bakr Elguindy, chair of the company, said that the students should learn how to live life through delivering happiness. “This is now included in the school curriculum, helping the students to participate in education and development,” he said. “We are inviting other schools to add delivering happiness to their curriculum, and we are willing to discover talented students in other schools.”
According to Fawzi, partnerships with the private sector in education can help to deliver higher quality, more specialisations, and the maximisation of resources. The curriculum for the schools has been determined for a period ranging from 12 to 15 months in order for the specialisations on offer to be suitable for the entire economic sector and not just the partner in question. The duration of study is three years, after which students obtain certificates opening the way to employment.
According to Hegazi, IATS graduates will be capable of joining the labour market directly after graduation or going to Egypt’s technological universities. “This initiative in developing vocational education will put Egyptian technicians on the global map,” Megahed concluded.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 28 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly