For the people of post-revolutionary Egypt, life in this transitional time is typified by a mix of optimism and struggle. The tourism sector has been deeply compromised, taking a serious toll on the rural community, where Azhar Youssef, a teacher of 10 years, and others had been dependent on tourism for livelihood. In an attempt to coax tourism back to Egypt, Azhar engaged her students to launch a promotional effort, an expression of the joys of Egypt through presentations, video, and photography. To help her students to collaborate, Azhar supplied Microsoft Office software. Azhar worked with students to build a website and encouraged the student population at large to participate, promote, and share in the project titled Welcome Back to Egypt. The success of the project led it to be featured in 2011 at the annual Microsoft Partners in Learning Global Forum.
Improved access to education in underserved areas represented a critical challenge in Egypt. Enrollment rates in Upper Egypt, especially for girls, were below the national average, and many small communities in the southern half of the country had virtually no educational services. Many entrenched misperceptions were conveyed to discourage young girls from attending school. Even when available, the quality of education was a national concern, inspiring some educators to take action.
The problems facing education in Egypt touched the entire country; Azhar's school in the village of Edfa, located in the Sohag governorate in southern Egypt, was no exception. Through the Microsoft Partners in Learning (PiL) program-a global initiative that works with governments and education leaders around the world at the national, state, and local levels-Azhar received needed educational resources, and in turn, she helped inspire a campaign to revive tourism in the remote region. Azhar’s training also motivated her to integrate technology into the everyday educational experience.
A dedicated teacher, Azhar studied cutting-edge technology and applied it for the benefit of her students. After taking several courses, such as those offered through the PiL virtual classroom, Azhar increased her skill level and managed to qualify for a scholarship to take a course in the United States: "Building Teaching Skills Through the Interactive Web." Returning to her students after completing the course, she was eager to implement what she had learned.
Azhar and her students faced the problem of limited Internet access. Most students didn’t have a computer-let alone access to the Internet-at home. For most of Azhar’s students, using her laptop was the only way for them to access a computer. Azhar paid for Internet services out of her own pocket.
However, Azhar’s enthusiasm for the project and sincere desire to transmit her knowledge to her students brought out the best in them. They were creative enough to find solutions to overcome problems and ways to study and practice the technology concepts that Azhar taught. It was easy to see the positive impact on the students-this work expanded their minds and ways of thinking. Despite initial resistance from parents and the school’s administration, the students gained the support of all involved.
The project was then entered into the Microsoft Partners in Learning competition in Egypt. It won second place.
Azhar received parents’ encouragement and appreciation for what she achieved with her students. Students no longer used computers simply for playing games. They discovered the joys of using technology to develop and hone learning capabilities-through teamwork, communication, and collaboration within the small classroom.
Azhar's efforts and persistence even promoted the project on the Middle East and Africa levels. The project won first prize in the "Creativity in the Face of Challenges" category.
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