When Sahar Abdel-Hakim was in her first year of preparatory school in the town of Abu Qurqas in Egypt’s Minya province, her school closed, the building was destroyed, and the students were forced to go elsewhere. She ended up in an overcrowded school, like so many Egyptian students.
So when she got the chance to make recommendations to the leaders of the province as part of the Community Youth Mapping program, she told them to rebuild her old school.
Ms. Abdel-Hakim, now 15, and two dozen of her peers from Egypt were here this month to attend a conference about the program, which is run by the Washington-based Academy for Educational Development, a nonprofit organization focused on education, health, and economic issues. The mapping project is run in more than 115 U.S. locales and has branched abroad to sites in Egypt, Haiti, Jordan, and the Netherlands, with plans for another in South Africa.
“There is a growing interest by the international community to engage young people,” said Eric J. Kilbride, a senior program officer for the program. Those countries “needed a strategy, and mapping worked successfully here, so they adopted it in their countries.”
The program sends youths 12 to 18 into their neighborhoods to survey businesses, clinics, recreation centers, and nonprofit organizations—“everything but houses,” one adult program manager says—for any type of program, service, class, or employment opportunity available to teenagers. The “mappers” then compile and organize the data and publish it on www.communityyouthmapping.org so other youths can benefit from their work. At the same time, the students learn communication, teamwork, and organizational skills. Many say they feel empowered by the experience.
Curricula Fall Short
Most of the Egyptian mappers attend technical schools, where students go if they fail an exam upon completing the equivalent of elementary school and two years of preparatory school.
The students found that employment opportunities don’t match up with the skills they’re being taught in school.
When all the data were collected, the technical school students made sure to include in their recommendations to government leaders ways to better align the curriculum with the job market.
Mahmoud Abdel-Samad, 17, said mapping his community showed him the shortcomings of his education. He spent three years studying refrigeration, he said, leaving him only one year to study air conditioning.
“It’s not enough,” Mr. Abdel-Samad said through a translator. His peers, he said, “are shocked to get out of school and find the needs of our community.”
Mr. Kilbride said the goal is to revamp the curricula. “They’re all being trained to fix air conditioning. Or [work in] textiles. It’s antiquated. They’re not employable.”
The AED program also provides the students with some of the skills they’ll need in the workforce, such as computer use and English instruction.
“English is a must to have a decent job in Egypt,” said Marwa Mohsen, a program manager for CYM Egypt.
Since taking part in the project, the young mappers have noticed a change in how they are perceived.
After Mr. Abdel-Samad and his peers presented their findings, the community leaders saw that “we have the potential to benefit the community. We aren’t marginalized. … The governor and the ministry are giving us more attention.”
What’s more, Sahar Abdel-Hakim’s old school was rebuilt, as a result of the recommendations she made, and now her younger sister goes there.
“It’s a new project in the community,” Ms. Abdel-Hakim said in English.
A version of this article appeared in the July 26, 2006 edition of Education Week as Egyptian Pupils Map Out Ways To Improve Lot