In the Beginning was the Grammar
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.
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.
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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.”