When Moroccan Belgian educational consultant Khadija Hamouchi came to Egypt almost two years ago, she never imagined the impact her visit would have—turning into what she calls her plan for “an educational awakening in the Arab world.”
Born to two Moroccan immigrants who valued education, Hamouchi recognizes she was lucky to have access to education that millions of her fellow students in the Arab region could not afford. “When I visited Egypt in June 2014, as well as other Arab countries, I found a huge mismatch. I was surprised to see young and smart self-starters in business, music, arts and languages—but the formal education provided to them was really inadequate,” she told Al-Fanar Media in a Skype interview.
According to the Arab World Learning Biometer launched by the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution, although the region has witnessed higher school enrollment rates, young Arabs are still not acquiring foundational skills. The research showed that 56 percent of primary-school students are not achieving basic learning levels, and the percentage drops to 48 percent among secondary-school students.
“On average, rural children do not perform as well as their urban counterparts, and overlapping disparities based on income, gender and geographic location create stark divisions,” the report states.
Hamouchi did not have to see these numbers to recognize the inequality–it was already clear enough for her to start her new educational initiative, called “Sejaal,” or “spirited debate,” in Arabic.
So what is Sejaal? According to Hamouchi, it is a people-to-people interactive educational platform that offers educational solutions for citizens of the Arab world to provide them with bigger access to opportunities.
The platform consists of four major hubs, including Sejaal newsroom, Sejaal teacher education, Sejaal recruitment, and Sejaal marketplace. Every product, says Hamouchi, aims at targeting a disparity in the educational systems of the region.
The newsroom project works on gathering news on educational reforms, innovations, initiatives and new research. “It aims to change people’s cultural approaches toward education, by learning from other experiences. It will also inspire them to find more creative educational solutions that suit their needs and context,” she explained.
Lack of teacher training was another area of inequality that Hamouchi discovered during her research on education problems in the Arab region. The limited educational reforms in the region, she explains, offer few solutions for the professional development of teacher or to strengthen their role as major stakeholders in the educational process. The Sejaal teacher education hub offers a bank of e-learning video material on issues related to pedagogy, behavior management, and student relations. The platform will also act as a network where teachers in the region can exchange ideas and experiences. In time, Hamouchi intends to offer an online masters degree in education for teachers through Sejaal.
During her research on the state of education in the region, Hamouchi learned that “those who have better connections have better access to job opportunities, while other teachers with better qualities are left with fewer options.” Sejaal recruitment should enable good educational professionals to have better access to job opportunities. The platform should connect job seekers in the educational field across the region to those who search for them, with an affordable cost paid by educational institutions seeking applicants.
Sejaal marketplace will be an online store for parents, students, teachers and all those involved in the educational process, where they can access educational products and services in the region such as books, online learning courses, school materials, new education inventions, applicable curricula, and training and packages suitable for all budgets.
With the ambitious project unfolding, Hamouchi recognizes that she still faces a number of challenges; her biggest at present is financial. For her project to prosper, Hamouchi believes she needs around $112,000, and she launched a fundraising campaign last month to collect much-needed capital. In October 2015, she won a $25,000 African Entrepreneurship Award to contribute to her project. The Berlin-based “The Do School” will be Sejaal’s incubator for the upcoming three months to prepare a project prototype before Hamouchi flies to San Francisco, having been selected for an accelerator program in Silicon Valley.
Similar educational projects have launched across the region, especially in Egypt, and have grown in size and influence. While the popular online collaborative learning platform Tahrir Academy was shut down last year due to financial problems, other initiatives like Nafham and Injaz are still operating to offer people-to-people educational solutions. It’s a positive movement for education in the Arab world.
“People have started to change their reality through politics over the last five years, and we all know how it ended. We don’t have the time to wait any longer,” says Hamouchi.