Stories for Tomorrow – Lived Today, Everywhere

In the Beginning was the Grammar

© Photo: Omar Mamduh al-Shami (Lizenz: CC BY-NC-ND)© Licence: CC BY-NC-ND

In the Beginning was the Grammar

A young Arabic instructor teaches free language classes to students in a quest to save Classical Arabic. An article by two students as part of the youth media project Bashkatib.

In his famous early-20th-century poem entitled “The Arabic Language”, poet Hafez Ibrahim lets Arabic speak in the first person and lament the shortcomings of its own speakers. A century later, this criticism has not abated, nor has the problem been solved. On the contrary, even today’s university students in Egypt often have insufficient Arabic skills and do not really master the grammar of their own mother tongue. This is partly due to the poor quality of public school instruction, which fails to teach the grammatical intricacies of this challenging language. Yet partly, the problem is also due to a lack of motivation on the part of the learners.

25-year-old Samir Refaat is an Arabic teacher from Sandoub, Mansoura in the Nile Delta. He rose to the challenge by launching an initiative to teach the basics of Arabic to children and university students. He calls his endeavor “Al Muassis” (the foundation builder).

In 2011, shortly after the Revolution of January 25, Refaat began teaching students the foundations of Arabic. He formed small groups, starting with six hours of free instruction in his own home, using only the most rudimentary teaching materials like photocopied grammar sheets.

Better than school

“I belong to no particular political or social party,” Refaat says. All he wants to do is support students and help raise the level of education in Egypt. At the same time, he himself has also benefited from this project, as it gave him a chance to gain valuable experience teaching Arabic grammar, both in theory and in practice. As he hones his skills as an educator, his students benefit, as well.


  • Refaat began implementing his idea of teaching students the basics of Arabic in 2011. He formed groups of students and started out by teaching them six free grammar lessons. He did this with the most basic teaching materials at his own home. Photo: Omar Mamduh al-Shami (CC BY-NC-ND)

  • “I belong to no particular political or social party,” Refaat says. What he wants is to support students and help improve education in Egypt. At the same time, his initiative has had a positive impact on himself, as well, because the work taught him vital practical and theoretical skills that benefit his students. Photo: Yousef al-Saadani (CC BY-NC-ND)

  • In addition to high illiteracy rates in Egypt – according to figures from the year 2006, about 30 percent of the population is illiterate – there is another quota, called “illiteracy among the educated”, which affects many students who cannot read. Photo: Yousef al-Saadani (CC BY-NC-ND)

  • In addition to the lessons, 25-year-old Refaat also published an “A to Z”-grammar book, which is in its second edition; the third edition as well as a digital pdf version are in the works. Photo: Yousef al-Saadani (CC BY-NC-ND)

  • Salma Khalid, a student who attends al-Muassis classes, believes that Refaat’s Arabic classes help her more than school. While her school teachers simply dictate information to her, Refaat places a lot of emphasis on the process of acquiring knowledge. Photo: Omar Mamduh al-Shami (CC BY-NC-ND)

  • Refaat wants his course offerings to remain free of charge to his students, despite the limited financial means he is able to provide out of his own pocket. Each month, he sets aside part of his salary in order to soon be able to better equip his home for classes. Refaat sees himself as an alternative to private classes, which are ruthlessly eating into the financial means of families that are poor to begin with. Photo: Omar Mamduh al-Shami (CC BY-NC-ND)

  • Homemaker Mona Saleh wants to see more such initiatives, because she believes that some teachers take advantage of the dire situation at public schools to gouge families for private instruction. 23-year-old Alaa Mohammed adds: “[Al-Muassis] merits the parents’ backing, respect and support because of its positive impact on students.” Photo: Omar Mamduh al-Shami (CC BY-NC-ND)

  • In its four years of existence, al-Muassis has helped many students improve their Arabic language skills. Refaat has taught more than 800 students in the Dakahlia Governorate and beyond. Photo: Yousef al-Saadani (CC BY-NC-ND)

  • The founder of al-Muassis would like to see public schools serve their students better and eventually catch up with private schools. He also hopes to expand his initiative and partner up with others in order to teach more students the right way. Photo: Yousef al-Saadani (CC BY-NC-ND)



Student Nahed Muhammed is a participant in Refaat’s project. She learned about al Muassis on Facebook and has taken various classes on grammar, writing, reading and expression.
“I learned more in Refaat’s classes than at school, because he actually takes the time to explain everything,” Nahed says. Her classmate Salma Khali agrees. Public schools in Egypt often value memorization over true comprehension and critical thinking.

Free classes and their challenges

At the outset, only two girls showed up for al Muassis classes, but soon Refaat ended up teaching Arabic grammar to a class of 20. Today, the reach of his initiative extends beyond Mansoura. He posts grammar tutorials with photos and videos on his Facebook page, making his project accessible to children from other parts of Egypt.

Not only did the number of students rise, but the course offerings have expanded, as well. Samir Refaat recently started offering classes to enhance expression and writing skills. He also published a grammar book with the title From A to Z. The book is in its second edition, a third one, as well as a digital pdf version are in the works.

Refaat insists on keeping his classes free of charge: “Students have a right to learn. Some offered to pay me, but I refused.” To him, his classes are an alternative to private instruction, which is ruthlessly eating into the financial means of families that were poor to begin with.

Interview: Alaa Alaa – Camera: Youssef As-Saadani, Omar al-Shami – Cutting: Omar al-Shami

Education has become a veritable crisis for many parents in Egypt. They are faced with the choice of either sending their children to public school, where the quality of instruction is poor, or paying skyrocketing prices for private classes. This is why projects like “‚Al-Muassis’ are so vital. Homemaker Mona Saleh wants to see more such initiatives, because she found that some teachers take advantage of the dire situation at public schools to gouge families for private instruction. Alaa Mohammed adds: [Al Muassis] is an initiative that deserves the parents’ backing, respect and support because of its positive impact on the students.”

Refaat's idea has struck a chord with his colleagues in the field of education, some of whom chose to volunteer for the initiative. The founder of al Muassis tells us how some teachers help him tutor and teach students, “in a strictly voluntary effort. Other colleagues from the Faculty of Education have helped me edit my curriculum and the books I developed and wrote for my grammar classes.”

Four years, 800 students

In its four years of existence, the al Muassis initiative has helped many students improve their Arabic language skills. Refaat has taught more than 800 students in the Dakhalia Governorate and elsewhere. He also personally visited schools to offer his collaboration. In Sousa, for example, a village near Nabaroh, Mansoura, he would test students each week in order to monitor their Arabic skills, make classes more appealing and confer awards to outstanding students. Refaat says that at this particular school, his efforts raised student achievement and closed the performance gap between public and private schools.

The founder of al Muassis wants public schools to do a better job serving their students and catch up with private schools. He also hopes to expand his initiative, partnering with other projects so that even more students can be taught the right way, because according to him: “Education is a fundamental right guaranteed by article 27 of our constitution, and we are simply helping students assert this right.”



    About

    July 2016
    Culture
    Egypt, Al-Muassis, Mansoura

    Authors

    Youssef Sami and Ala Alaa

    Fifteen-year-old tenth-grader Youssef Sami has been involved in the Bashkatib project since June of 2015, with “Qalam Al Mansoura” in Al Mansoura, in the Province of Dakahlia. He likes to write news reports because he wants to make a difference in society. He hopes to be a movie director one day.

    Sixteen-year-old eleventh-grader Alaa Alaa has been with the Bashkatib project since June 2015 with “Qalam Al Mansoura” in Al Mansoura, in the Province of Dakahlia. She enjoys writing essays and news reports.

    Translated by

    Kerstin Trimble

    Partner

    Bashkatib

    Share

    Further Topics

    Culture
    Community
    Energy
    Food & Drink
    Material
    Mobility
    Public Relations
    Rural & Urban Nature
    Space & Housing