Egypt’s Ain Shams University wins Unesco literacy prize

The Cairo university is one of six international recipients recognised for outstanding inclusive distance and digital learning projects in Covid times

Ain Shams University in Cairo won the Unesco Confucius Prize for Literacy for its online literacy classes aimed at rural areas of Egypt. Photo: Ain Shams University
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Egypt’s Ain Shams University has won the Unesco Confucius Prize for Literacy for its project that uses digital technology to teach literacy in rural areas of the country.

The annual Unesco international literacy prizes were awarded to six programmes from Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Mexico and South Africa, on International Literacy Day.

Ain Shams University president Prof Mahmoud El Meteini spoke in an online event held to recognise the award recipients on Thursday.

“Experience has taught us that despite the difficulties and challenges of using technology for adult distance learning, the opportunities are still encouraging,” Prof El Meteini said.

This year’s awards recognised projects that focused on inclusive distance and digital literacy learning during the Covid-19 crisis.

“Whether NGOs, non-profits, universities or national institutes, they are successfully reaching some of the most marginalised learners in the world,” said Stefania Giannini, assistant director general for education at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

At least 773 million youth and adults globally cannot read and write, and 250 million children are failing to acquire basic literacy skills, according to Unesco.

In Egypt, about a quarter of the population is illiterate, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics.

Ain Shams University is participating in the National Literacy Project launched by President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, which aims to eliminate illiteracy in Egypt by 2030.

The public university in Cairo provides educational, economic and social services to poor villages, and trains students to join the project as literacy teachers.

For students in certain fields of study - including education, business, law and arts – teaching literacy is a requirement for graduation.

Student teachers are also provided with cash incentives of 250 Egyptian pounds ($16) from the government’s General Authority for Adult Education for every learner who becomes literate, as well as an expenses exemption for the following year from the university.

Between 2015 and 2021, authorities said, 21,537 learners successfully completed the programme, 55 per cent of whom were women and girls.

During the pandemic, there was an increased focus on using technology, such as creating a YouTube channel to share educational videos and offering online courses for students and university staff.

“Given the current Covid-19 crisis, we started using different educational platforms for both the teachers to provide the ongoing necessary training, as well as for the learning process,” Prof El Meteini said.

The “lack of adequate technological infrastructure” was a challenge, but the university continued to send educational convoys to the most disadvantaged regions in the country in parallel, he added.

The Unesco Confucius Prize for Literacy was established in 2005 with the support of the Chinese government. Each of the three prizewinners will receive a medal, a diploma and a cash prize of $30,000.

The prize gives special consideration to functional literacy and use of technological environments, in support of adults in rural areas and out-of-school youth.

The Unesco King Sejong Literacy Prize, sponsored by the Korean government and established in 1989, gives special consideration to language-based literacy development. The three winners will receive a medal, a diploma and a cash prize of $20,000.

Updated: September 09, 2021, 7:10 PM