Seeing children who are enthusiastic about learning is always inspiring but my recent visit to a children’s literacy class in a poor neighbourhood in Cairo took that to another level! It is an experience that I cherish and think about often now that I’m back home in France. And whenever I see the news from Egypt, focusing on its many tensions and troubles, I remind myself of the serene but lively atmosphere of the class and the animated faces of the children. (See video at the end of this post.)
The Bible Society of Egypt currently runs 800 literacy classes, 85% of which are for children. The one I visited is held in the compound of a Coptic Church. We were warmly welcomed by Amir, 27, who works in his family wood business and gives three evenings each week to help with the classes. He and the other teachers were trained by the Bible Society’s representative, Emad Selim.
These children are Egypt’s future!
I found it so exciting to be among these children, who are Egypt’s future! They come three days a week for two hours after school and it is something they do gladly. The teachers told us that the children never miss their classes – in fact, they arrive early – and that they are learning fast. Not only are their reading and writing skills improving but their delighted parents report that they’re becoming more polite and patient at home. A by-product, perhaps, of the fact that the literacy material they are using is the Bible?
You may be wondering why these children, who are already attending school, need to come to these literacy classes. It’s true that schooling in Egypt is free, and parents only need to spend a relatively small amount of money (but which many find difficult) to buy notebooks, school supplies and uniforms. But schools are generally overcrowded, the teachers underpaid and poorly trained and, consequently, are often not respected. So the quality of education at many government schools is inadequate. In fact, a recent report by the World Economic Forum ranked Egypt’s primary education as the worst in the world! Egyptian children need extra help to gain the basic skills on which they need to build their future education – reading and writing.
Read out loud
The children I met have been attending literacy classes for several months and it was wonderful to hear them read out loud and explain what they had understood in the lesson. Febronia said she can now understand much more in lessons at school. Kirolis said that he now knows he can look for a solution when he doesn’t understand something. The literacy method used in the classes is very positive, teaching children that if a word is too complicated, there is an easier one they will be able to understand.
One reason it’s so hard for Egyptian children learn to read and write is because the Classical Arabic Language that is read and written is very different from the colloquial, everyday spoken Arabic. And the grammar is hard, too. That is why it is so important to make learning fun and interactive. The literacy teachers don’t just teach the rules and the grammar of Arabic – they encourage discussion about the biblical material the children are reading and they play games.
Christians were attacked
Deniana says that one particular week, when Christians had been attacked and she felt scared, she was able to remember the comforting stories that they had been studying in the class.
“I realised that I am not alone”, she said. “Jesus is always there with me.”
What an amazing ministry, quietly taking place in a country that is experiencing so much turmoil. I pray that these literacy classes help to raise a generation of Egyptians who know and love God’s Word and who help to build a positive future for their country.