Soapbox Science

Science Across Egypt© Project

gihan.png This week’s guest blogger is Gihan Samy Soliman, an Educational Consultant & Master’s Researcher at the Institute of Environmental Studies & Research, Ain Shams University.

Since 1936, when Egypt became a party to the Convention Relative to the Preservation of Fauna and Flora in their Natural State, they have been among the pioneering countries taking an active interest in the conservation of biodiversity and the preservation of natural resources. In 1992, Egypt signed the Biodiversity Convention of Rio de Janeiro and ratification of this Convention was completed in 1994. This Convention required the parties to formulate national strategies setting a framework for the conservation of biological diversity (biodiversity). Although much “technical” attention has been paid to biodiversity in Egypt, with many conferences, recommendations and ratification of laws, the problem of an evidently defective system of education in Egypt means that the right information on conservation doesn’t seem to reach the right people: students.

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Teaching methods in Egypt need to be addressed, particularly in relation to biodiversity. Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem and is a measure of the health of ecosystems. Biologists define biodiversity as the “totality of genes, species, and ecosystems of a region.” For students in the US, biodiversity is studied as a science; students can explore textbooks and review material according to their curriculum, which is usually based on each state’s learning standards (Figure 1). However, in Egypt there is hardly any real relationship between science and the environment, making learning about these issues difficult.

Several attempts at reform have been made to enhance science education in Egypt and raise awareness of biodiversity issues. However, they’re usually confined to issuing books, booklets, CDs and posters which are not systematically presented to students and end up sitting on school library shelves and hidden away in cupboards (e.g. www.biomapegypt.org ).

As an educational consultant working with Ahmed Abdel Azeem, Ph.D, I have started working with schools on a self-financing environmental and applied science project called Science Across Egypt©. The project’s aim is to integrate conservation of biological diversity into curricula and extra-curricular activities in “Egyptian schools”.:http://www.misrnewsagency.com/main/art.php?id=109&art=10914

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The Science Across Egypt project carries out many initiatives that aim to teach children more about the environment. As an example, on International Water Day on March 22, 2011, students of Port Said American School

were accompanied to the Nile River bank to celebrate the event and take water samples to measure the level of pollution onsite. They also campaigned for declaring the river Nile as a natural protectorate (Figure 2). The Media reported the event as being a unique opportunity for children to learn more about the environment.

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Reforming science education in Egypt will need more determined efforts on both national and international levels (Figure 3). Taking a step in this direction, for the first time in Egypt, a group of scientists and attentive community leaders have established an international Egyptian NGO (International Foundation for Environment Protections and Sustainability) to address the issues of biodiversity in Egypt (www.ifeps.org ). Will such efforts work? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

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