Project at Ain-Shams University in Egypt wins UNESCO literacy prize

Ain Shams University in Egypt is awarded the UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy 2021 for its project ‘Ain Shams University experience in organizing online literacy classes for rural areas in Egypt’.

Ain Shams University was established in 1950, making it the third oldest university in Egypt. The Ain-Shams University project uses digital technology in literacy programmes to empower learners in rural areas of Egypt and participates in the National Literacy Project. The University’s Society Service and Environment Development Department, which works on community development services to poor, marginalized, and needy villages and settlements.

The project also provides educational, economic, and social services and uses incentives and training programmes to encourage university students to join the project as literacy teachers.

During the COVID-19 crisis, there was an increased focus on using technology for distance learning to disseminate literacy lessons, including through TV, SMS, and online platforms.

This enabled Ain Shams University to embrace inclusive distance and technology-enabled literacy learning by creating their own YouTube channel and sharing several educational videos based on reading and mathematics in addition to offering online courses for students and university staff.

Technological and communication skills and understanding of distance learning were improved for individuals with no or low literacy skills. Literacy-related activities are paired with training on a number of life skills that have a positive impact on the community and longevity of learning. Between 2015 and 2021, 42 900 learners were enrolled having 21 537 successfully complete the project in the same time period. 55 percent were women and girls.

Beyond technology enabling more inclusive literacy learning, Dr. Mahmoud El-Matini, President of Ain Shams University, shares that “technology can also provide lifelong learning opportunities, especially for those who cannot return to formal education due to difficult conditions”.

However, many drawbacks were highlighted during the global crisis, including the lack of appropriate technological infrastructure for illiterate people to access services, lack of teachers' skills in using technology for remote teaching, lack of information available for illiterate people to access educational materials, and lack of assessment methods that were not compatible with online teaching methods.

Building on these achievements, and with the exposure provided by the 2021 Literacy Prize, Ain Shams University aims to expand the process of teaching and learning for adults with the participation of all university faculties, as well as amplifying the provision of educational convoys to the most marginalized.

To celebrate International Literacy Day, Ain Shams University encourages taking on new opportunities in using technology in distance learning for adults, despite its challenges. “The timing is now and more appropriate than ever,” says Dr. Mahmoud El-Matini. “The attempts, however difficult it may be, is still possible”.

This year’s UNESCO International Literacy Prizes will be awarded to six outstanding literacy programmes from Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Mexico and South Africa on the occasion of International Literacy Day. UNESCO will host a two-day online International Conference on 8 and 9 September. A special session with the Laureates of this year’s Prizes 2021 will be held on 9 September highlighting ‘inclusive distance and digital learning’.

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