Alternative Models of University Education in Egypt symposium was a three day panel and networking event that brings together Egyptian models of alternative education with international counterparts in a critical dialogue that aims to unpack the reasons and ramifications of these practices.
The symposium was part of Adad program. Adad is a program initiated by Townhouse in collaboration with Megawra, Mada Masr, 100 Copies and Cimatheque. Starting April 2014, and for a period of six months, the five cultural institutions will jointly curate a weeklong program during the last week of every month in Townhouse’s Rawabet theatre.
The event attempted to look critically at the current experiments with alternative models of education in the fields of architecture and urbanism, art, humanities, social sciences and development. It intended to address the reasons behind the move towards alternative education, interrogate what initiators and participants want to learn – and unlearn – through their involvement in these initiatives and discuss the ramifications of this trend for mainstream university education.
From my involvement in the symposium as a general repondant and a mapper I’ll try in the following to highlight the important themes across these different fields mentioned earlier that evolved from the three days discussions in attempt to open new horizons for the integration of both the parallel and institutional streams of university education.
In the first day Ahmed Zaazaa and Amr Helmy (Alternative Development Lab) have discussed the same theme of Development raised by Karim Goessinger and Raju Hittalamani (CILAS). Both entities have discussed research in the field of development as an important field for the parallel university models to work on.
Karim Goessinger has presented CILAS as a multi disciplinary research institute involved mainly in the field of Philosophy and Humanities in general. It is also involved in the field of Political Sciences which was presented as a main field of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science FEPS), Cairo University. This intersection of fields wasn’t explored enough in this session. There is still the need to explore what CILAS is offering that students in FEPS, Cairo University can make use of and vise versa. Another entity who is involved in political science is Sandberg Institute. what is significant about this entity that it is the only institute that was related to the design profession and tried to incorporate it with political sciences among many of the fields they are working on such as behaviour studies and everyday life.
Sandberg institute has raised some issues that resonated with other issues raised during the sessions such as the ownership of the knowledge which resonated in the theme mentioned by Campus in Camps in other terms as the occupation of knowledge. Jurgen Bey the principle of the institute also mentioned the power of design which can be easily compared to the power of the State especially in the case of our country.
In two different sessions, CILAS as well as Anneka Lenssen from the Visual Arts Department in the American University in Cairo have raised the issues of autonomy of the university and its accessibility for all. Accessibility has been echoed in another session by Jurgen Bey has also mentioned the importance of openness in the university
Alternative Development Lab shared the same interest in the production of theory with FEPS, Cairo University. But they also mentioned that this needs to be done in balance with the emphasis on the practice side which was the and important potential for IUSD, Ain Shams University as well as Department of Architecture in the American University in Cairo which took the accreditation as the main way to improve the practice potential of its students.
Participation, whether between students and tutors, State and University or between different fields of knowledge was an important theme raised by Education Sqaure, Alternative Development Lab and Faculty of Art Education- Helwan University. I may add to this, participation between parallel and institutional streams of education.
The need of integration of various fields of knowledge has also been stressed by Education Square as well as by alternative development lab. Surprisingly, it was also raised by Faculty of Art Education, Helwan University. This raises the question of how capable are out governmental universities of integrating various disciplines crossing over inside politics between departments.
Mapping rises as an important tool as it was mentioned by more than one entity in different sessions. it was mentioned by Education Square as their main tool to integrate various parallel education initiatives. The department of visual arts in the AUC also uses mind-mapping techniques to trigger critical thinking potentials of the students.
The setting was an essential theme stressed by more than one entity on various occasion during the discussion sessions. There were some attempts to improve the setting where the teaching took place varied from moving to the traditional city in the case of CILAS to the attempt to break free from the campus walls in the case of the department of visual arts in the AUC. Sandberg institute also has an important reliability on working on a setting that is not abided by the lecture and audience format. they have worked in old factories and outdoor areas to improve the setting to generate creative ideas.
Farida Makar (Independent researcher & CILAS fellow) highlighted the issue of uncertainty in the realm of research in general and the inside universities in particular. Farida Makar ( Independent researcher and CILAS fellow) highlighted about the problems that the security situation and State of emergency in Egypt cause for researchers and how the State interfere in the universities affairs with the claim these security provisions. although in a diffrent context, this isn't far from the what Isshaq al Barbary from Campus in Camps has also discussed the impact of security issues related to the occupation of Palestine by the Israelis and how it impacts their activities.
Campus in camps tackled the issue of language and its impact on the university itself. The difference between the word algame3a (the collective) with it the meaning it carries and implies vs. the word university in English. They mentioned that the have worked in a collective urban dictionary. Here is a potential if developing this into a lexicon.
During one of the sessions in the third day, a video edited by Magdi Mostafa was shown where some of the students were interviewed about their conditions in the university. Most of their answers revolved around the urge that most of the professors to erase their character and impose a certain one on them. They mentioned that it is not accepted or encouraged to freely express their diverse identities within the the university campus and how this eventually negatively affects their sense of belonging not only to the university but to the whole country. Nevertheless that this condition limits their creativity and desire to learn especially from a Tutor that doesn't accept the person you are as is. This situation resulted in the absence of a healthy relationship between tutors and students.
One of the most crucial problems that were mentioned during different sessions were the issue of educational policies and legislations. Karim Goessinger from CILAS questioned if they were after considered legal by the State and reflects this point of view on the whole parallel education stream. On the other side, policies can be a potential rather than a problem as Mohamed Salheen from IUSD, Ain Shams University stated that their work on urban governance can have an impact in the long on the State policies towards urban management of the city.
One of the key issues that emerged in more than one panel was the social role towards the community. This was brought up on different scales. Anneka presented their efforts the department of visual arts in the AUC to develop the sense of responsibility in the students and that visual arts are not just art for art sake but have an important social role. Karim Goessinger also presented how CILAS fellow try to develop the sense of if social responsibility throughout the curriculum. Mohamed Salheen from IUSD, Ain Shams University goes further to show that they follow a community based method of education in the program. Moreover, Karim ibrahim from Tadamun initiative states that the whole field and discipline of architecture and urbanism has an important social role to play in the life of the society. In this context we need to stress that on a broader view the university itself need to acknowledge its social role and work on ways to carry it out effectively.
From a technical point of view, Anneka Lenssen from the department of visual arts in the well as Saria Sedky from the faculty of Art Education, Helwan university, they both showed how can integrating the latest technologies in the educational process can have an impact not only on the craftsmanship of the students but also has the potential of developing an industry such as film, music.
The event tried to put a number of what-if questions on the table; what if the State’s paranoia towards university students peaks to the point where universities are outlawed? What if the educational market-based model is embraced to the point where art and humanities are deemed redundant? What if the neo-liberal trend towards absolving the State of its responsibility for higher education reaches a point where getting an education – or not - is the responsibility of the individual? What if alternative models in their rejection of the tyranny of knowledge and the hierarchy of structured education destructure to the point of oblivion? What if internet-based knowledge renders universities obsolete? What if internet-based knowledge implodes from within through information glut?
Still one of the main criticism of the institutional university education is that it obscures the flow of knowledge. the classical classification of fields of knowledge as separate disciplines reduces all the interrelated connections between these fields. in this context the significance of this mapping exercise as it not only attempts to draw the network between the participating entities, demonstrating what fields of knowledge it can contribute to or even highlighting the potential for further integration and cooperation between these initiatives. the real significance of this mapping is the exploring the potential of rearranging the knowledge map itself which can result in generating new curriculums crossing the boundaries between disciplines and entities.
An interactive version of this network can be accessed through this link
باحث و مصمم معمارى و مدرس مساعد بالأكاديمية البحرية و الجامعة الأمريكية بالقاهرة. مهتم ببحث عوامل المرونة فى البيئات العمرانية التقليدية و كيفية الإستفادة منها فى زيادة قدرة البيئة العمرانية المعاصرة على التكيف مع التغيرات و التحولات المستمرة. كما يدون عن الأنماط المشتركة بين أحوال مصر العمرانية و غيرها من المدن.
I'm a practicing design architect and a teaching assistant in the American University and the Arab Academy of Science and Technology and other educational institutions in Cairo. I'm also an independent researcher interested in the issue of resilience against change and transformation in the built environments. In this blog, I draw parallels between urban conditions in Cairo and other cities in search for the emergent patterns.
Follow on twitter @drawingparallel