Mostafa is pushing communities and learners to assume responsibility for their education by providing them with access to innovative teaching methodologies. This is done by creating digital, low cost, inclusive, open and community-powered educational platforms in Egypt and the Arab region.
The New Idea
Mostafa is democratizing access to education in the Arab world, starting with Egypt. He does this by mobilizing teachers, parents, and students to assume responsibility for the provision of innovative learning opportunities for Arab children. Mostafa is doing this through the creation of online technology tools that capitalize on technology’s popularity and viral nature amongst students, and by utilizing the concept of “crowd-teaching” for the first time in Egypt. He is complementing his online movement by engaging schools, as well as private and social sectors.
Through his online educational hub, Nafham – Arabic for “We Understand”, Mostafa creates, curates, and crowdsources 5-15 minute long educational videos that can be accessed online and via mobile and smart TV applications for free. The videos represent the official public school curricula (primary to Year 12) in different Arab countries through audio-visual formats. They are categorized by grade, subject, and academic schedule. It also includes interactive discussion forums that allow students to interact with their educators and peers. In addition to this are self-assessment tools that grant students the ability to track their own progress. Educational videos are created by a growing network of educators and parents. Mostafa empowers the educators through the knowledge needed to create such videos and incentivizes the work using monthly competitions conducted in partnership with the private sector.
Through Nafham, parents are able to help their children study at home, teachers have new tools to engage students with multiple intelligences, and Arab students themselves have increased access to free education, enabling them learn at their own pace. Students find numerous explanations for every lesson and are given the possibility to choose the pedagogical style that best suits their characters. Thus, they are able to shift their educational process from a uni-directional one-size-fits-all pedagogy focused on rote-memorization, to a multi-directional, interactive, dialogical and self-paced educational process that empowers them to be independent and assume responsibility for their own learning.
Egypt has roughly 19 million students enrolled in grades K-12. About 92% of them attend public schools. According to reports conducted by UNICEF, most of these schools are full of students, but lack the proper resources and teachers. Private schools on the other hand educate only 8% of the country’s students. Aside from the very small number of embassy and international private schools, none of these schools stray from the national centralized Egyptian curriculum, and are in fact subject to supervision by the Ministry of Education.
While the World Bank’s development indicators reveal that Egypt’s school enrollment rates are at 95% for primary education and 85% for secondary education, the World Economic Forum ranked Egypt in 79th for Quantity of Education and 141st for Quality of Education out of 144 countries in its 2014-2015 Global Competitiveness Report. UNICEF reports that the quality of education remains a major challenge hindering the capacity of children to develop to their full potential. Students suffer from rigid conventional teaching styles in which participation is not encouraged and corporal punishment is commonly applied.
Studies show that the school environment adversely affects completion rates. 1 in 5 school buildings are not fit for use. Until 2012, less than 10% of the total number of schools met the national standards for quality education. The average school could have up to 2000 students, with some classes crammed with 90 pupils. Additionally, schools lack the appropriate technological resources to aid the teaching process, such as projectors and computers. As a result, many Egyptian families send their children to private after school tutoring where they can sit in less crowded classes and have an opportunity to understand the material. This has place a heavy economic burden on Egyptian parents especially those of middle and low income levels. Egyptian families spend a total of around $ 2–3 billion a year on private tutoring.
The rising population level is another challenge for the Egyptian education system. The number of newborns annually is around 2.6 million while the number of seats available in schools is around 1.6 million. There is a potential loss of more than a million opportunities for future students to enroll in schools within 6 years. It requires the government to build 1,500 schools per year for the next 6 years in order to maintain the current gap between birth rates and schools enrollment capacities.
According to World Bank data, Internet users totaled 31.7% of the Egyptian population in 2014 and mobile cellular subscriptions reached 114% of the population for the same year. According to eMarketer, smart phone users reached 29.8% of the population in 2015 and is forecasted to increase to 39.6% by 2018.
With 15 years of experience in the digital industry in Egypt and being one of the pioneers of a movement that aims to increase Arabic content on the internet, Mostafa is in a good position to develop a new technology-based solution to the problems in Egypt’s education system.
Mostafa launched his idea, Nafham, in February 2012. The point of Nafham is to create an online crowd-sourced education hub that is free as well as low cost for the segments who can afford it. It is easily-navigable, user-friendly and open for the students, teachers and parents alike. The platform provides them with access to the official mandated education curriculum for children from K-12th grade. Lessons are categorized according to grade, subject, and academic calendar.After several focus groups and market studies, Mostafa launched the online portal in September 2012 on the basis of introducing the concept of “crowd-sourcing” for the first time in Egypt. His first challenge was figuring out how to incentivize the idea of the community donating their time and effort to contribute to the platform. Mostafa addressed this challenge by creating monthly award-based competitions. This was done in partnership with the private sector, including companies like Vodafone, Youtube, Samsung, Intel and Hoa123. The goal was to mobilize and incentivize teachers, parents and students to put their talents into interactive 5–15 minute-long videos in which they explain different school lessons. There were several other methods used to incentivize the process, for example, Mostafa created an ambassadors program for talented youth who gained points as they contributed to the educational content and encouraged others to join. The educators were accompanied by Mostafa’s team to learn how to shoot, edit and upload their educational content following a simple and user-friendly gamification guide. When the educational videos are submitted, Mostafa’s team reviews the content and quality standards according to their guidelines. Around the same time, Mostafa started a community review system where an educator submitting a new video to the platform can ask a registered teacher for review. Both the new and the registered educator receive more points if they do this. Mostafa is building the capacity of a network of volunteers who can sustain reviewing the content as it grows. By allowing diverse methods of teaching, there is more than one explanation for every lesson. This increases the chances of reaching to a larger variety of students.While the majority of his videos are crowd-sourced, Mostafa compensates for the missing lessons by producing in-house videos and curating online content. This is temporary until he is able to reach a level where 100% of his educational content is crowd-sourced. After a year of testing and piloting the idea, Mostafa introduced his platform on a mobile and a smart TV application in 2013 to increase his outreach as well as students’ accessibility. Additionally, he introduced elements that allowed for interactions among students, parents and teachers.
As the Nafham platform grew into the community around it, Mostafa and his team found demands from students and non-students for educational content outside the official curriculum. After carefully considering the demand, Mostafa launched a new section on his online tools titled “Independent Free Education” that operates using the same concept of “crowd-sourcing” from the community to the community. Through this section, Mostafa is cultivating a culture of life-long learning and curiosity.
Nafham has now become a crowd-teaching movement that has led to video productions covering almost the full, national Egyptian curriculum from Grade K -12. With over 500,000 active, retained monthly users, a total of more than 6 million unique users since the start between students, teachers and parents, the platform hosts more than 23,000 educational videos available for students, of which 9,000 is created by the Nafham community. Mostafa has successfully engaged and retained 500 teachers, students and parents who act as contributors to feed his platform with a continuous stream of educational content. Mostafa has already started extending the crowd-teaching concept in a pilot to involve Syrian, Algerian and Kuwaiti curricula. Mostafa’s educational platform has reached more than 35 million views since the start with 80,000 average daily views and interactions on the multiple channels as well as a total of 5 million page views per month maintaining a 100% increase each academic year. Through social media, Mostafa has engaged 455,000 Facebook fans and 140,000 Youtube subscribers. His audiences are mostly students aged 6 – 19 years old followed by a mix of teachers and parents.
Mostafa intends to integrate some revenue-generating elements into his model like launching an assessment tool to help students as well as their educators to measure their learning progress. The latter will be offered to private and international schools who can afford to pay to integrate into their learning methodologies while offering it at a low cost to the rest of the student spectrum. Mostafa has a team of 7 paid staff members and 52 community ambassadors. His funds were maintained through diverse channels which include advertisements on the online platforms, private sector partnerships and awards like the Sharawy AbdElBaqi Award 2015, WISE Qatar Award 2015, Arab Social Media Influencers Awards 2015, Samsung Entelaq 2014, Sheikh Salem Al Sabah Informatics Award 2014, Pioneers of Egypt 2014, ArabNet Beirut 2013 and Mercy Corps Egypt Best Social Impact Award 2013.
In addition to diversifying revenue sources for financial sustainability, within the coming 5 years, Mostafa plans to test his model in different Arab countries depending on their potential market needs. To enhance his operations and keep up with the level of his outreach, Mostafa will deploy a Learner Management System (LMS) platform which is a software application for the administration, documentation, tracking, reporting and delivery of electronic educational technology courses or training programs. This will not only stop at crowd sourcing educational content for formal school students but will also expand to vocational students, a target audience that is completely ignored by the education technology market in a time when there is a high demand for skilled labor.
In the long term, Mostafa plans to launch a national movement to engage telecom providers to offer educational content through free internet access. This will help more students access Mostafa’s platform, thereby avoiding the anticipated future problems of a lack of access to education for many Egyptian children. He also plans to mobilize school and CSO partners on the ground to increase his outreach and have avenues where students can interact with his platform offline.
The concept of assuming responsibility for one’s own learning was always present in Mostafa’s life. Mostafa exhibited entrepreneurial qualities that were centered on technology since his childhood. Having self-learnt computer science and design at an early age, he used his skills to make money from his family and friends by transferring his computer skills through maintaining their devices- a skill that he used later to support himself at times of family financial hardships. Using his self-learnt skills, Mostafa was able to excel and surpass many of his peers who had degrees in computer science or design. At a young age, Mostafa started a project to sell CDs with customer-tailored content.
Having contributed to the development of the early technology entrepreneurs movement in Egypt, Mostafa was one of the first to start developing and launching online platforms in the Arabic language, increasing Arabic digital content in different domains including news, culture, education and sports. He has extensive professional experience in design, marketing, public relations, branding and advertising which he has put to use in the launching and development of Nafham.
Mostafa was always concerned with how to use technology to make people’s lives easier, to present content that is impactful and that is reflective of the Arab identity. After he became a father, Mostafa observed his child’s habits of absorbing violent habits from games on his technological devices. He started developing applications that could help his child and other children to learn positive life habits. Faced by school and educational challenges in Egypt, Mostafa and his wife had made the decision to home-school their children, an idea which is now happening across several Egyptian communities. It was precisely at this stage of his life that the idea for his platform came about.