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Podcast #38: The role of education in empowering young Egyptians to shape their future

'Beyond School Books' – a podcast series on education in emergencies

© UNICEF Egypt/2011/LeMoyne
Thousands of young people protested in Egypt demanding political change earlier this year, including many young women and adolescent girls in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

By Rudina Vojvoda

NEW YORK, USA, 2 May 2011 – The 18 days of protests in Egypt at the beginning of the year led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old regime. Although thousands of people spent days and nights protesting at Tahrir Square in Cairo, the uprising became known as ‘The Youth Revolution’ because of the prominent role of young activists.

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UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello discussed how education is empowering youth to participate in civil society with Asmaa Elbadawy, a young researcher for the Population Council’s office in Egypt and an expert within the Division of Poverty, Gender and Youth; and Mohammed Naseehu Ali, a writer, musician and teacher from Ghana whose fiction and essays have been published in The New Yorker and the New York Times.

Mr. Ali said he was not surprised that youth has been instrumental in helping create a new, more democratic society. “The youth are always going to lead the way,” he said.

Increasing influence

Almost half of the world’s population – nearly 3 billion people – are under the age of 25. They are often marginalised and deprived, with poor access to education. But now young people in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Yemen are calling for genuine opportunities to design their future.

Ms. Elbadawy explained that previous apathy towards politics masked a desire by youths to be involved in shaping the future. A survey of 15,000 young people aged between 18 and 29 conducted by the Population Council in 2009 found most were not interested in politics and only 16 per cent had ever voted.

“It’s not that they were not interested in being engaged, but the feeling of hopelessness,” she told Ms. Costello. Now, young people in Egypt are demanding education reforms aimed at increasing young people’s knowledge of civil rights.

“In the past we had civic education as part of our system, but it was taught under a totalitarian regime and therefore nobody was really interested,” said Ms. Elbadawy. “The ministry of education should consider reintroducing this subject again in a more interactive way so people will be interested.”

'Brought up to speed’

For Mohammed the changes in the education system need to be more radical. “The new education system needs to be tailored to the 21st century” he said. “Children in underdeveloped countries need to be brought up to speed with the latest developments in technology, industry and new media.”

He added that students can get a lot of information from internet, “but the classroom is where you have structure, where children can learn about their civic duties.”




27 April 2011: UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello discusses the role of education in preparing youth for meaningful participation in civil society with guests Asmaa Elbadawy and Mohammed Naseehu Ali.
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