Ms Iman Sabry, Head of Private and International Department, Ministry of Education & Elizabeth White OBE, Country Director, British Council Egypt
On two consecutive days, the British Council Egypt held a conference bringing together some of the most influential leaders within Egypt’s education system to reconnect, share ideas, and discuss opportunities for the future of education in Egypt. With over 120 attendees coming in person, the conference held keynote presentations to tackle the important themes in addition to panel discussions and workshops with an aim to facilitate knowledge sharing and exchange of ideas.
On this occasion, we had a delightful talk with Ms. Iman Sabry, Head of Private and International Department, Ministry of Education, Elizabeth White, OBE, Country Director, British Council Egypt, Fakhar Jaffery, British Council Director Exams, Egypt to further discuss the role played by the British Council in Egypt and how it contributes to shaping the future of education in line with the state’s vision.
First, I would like to start with you Elizabeth. I would like to ask you about the main message behind this conference is trying to deliver, being a conference that is attended by principals and a lot of people from the British education system.
The aim of this conference is to bring together school leaders from across Egypt in the partner schools' networking conferences. Today, we’re celebrating the fact that finally we can meet together again after two years to share experiences, hopes, and ambitions for the future of education. Through this conference, we’ll do some learning looking at leadership challenges as well as safer schools and environments for children and above all the long-forgotten joy of collaboration.
During the last two years, we’ve forgotten how important it is to be with other professionals to exchange ideas. The first thing I felt when I arrived this morning is the joy of simply being together and the power of this network of school leaders. I’m very pleased that, with the Ministry of Education and its given support, the British Council was able to convene this powerful network and have a few days of communication and celebration.
In that light, what contribution does the British Council bring to such a gathering?
Elizabeth White: The British Council has been a partner of the Ministry of Education for the past 8 years and has been doing schools’ assessment as well as maintenance of schools’ standards and integrity for the last 30 years. We bring our passion for quality, our rigorous adherence to integrity, our ability to convene, and our experience in working with the Ministry together and I hope that all these elements are contribute to this conference’s success.
Fakhar Jaffery: This is a very good question actually. In more ways than one, the contributions that the British Council brings to the table is led by the stakeholders that we work with; the Ministry of Education is here, the school leaders are here, the school teachers are here. With that being said, we can state that the platform is the first contribution the British Council has provided, bringing these stakeholders together to speak with each other, share ideas, and exchange views on not only the difficulties they face and how they’ve overcome them but also the upcoming aspirations and ambitions. As for more future contributions, these will be the outcome of us listening to the Ministry of Education and the schools as well to know what contributions they would like us to make, and we will tailor our responses and opportunities according to this feedback.
Regarding the umbrella which holds all the schools in partnership with the British Council, how do they contribute to the development of Egypt’s educational system?
Ms. Iman Sabry: For many years, the partnership between the British Council and the Ministry of Education has proven to be successful, year after year. This is a result of the impactful integration between both sides and the roles they play hand in hand to improve the education system here in Egypt and to maintain the integrity of the education system with the British quality standards. We continuously hold conferences and cooperate together in visiting the schools and discussing the important topics. Worth mentioning our visits abroad to learn all about the latest update in education and bring all this experience here to Egypt so the schools and the whole education system can benefit from these experiences.
Fakhar, the last two years have been very difficult for many educational institutions and especially that the British system has schools around the world. What challenges have you faced in managing international exams across the globe during this difficult time of the pandemic?
I think the schools in Egypt weren’t facing these challenges alone. Obviously, the pandemic has shifted the focus from face-to-face teaching and learning to a remote one. The biggest challenge was in the infrastructure and the teachers’ ability to adapt to this new model which is new for most of the teachers. What the British Council was able to do is provide professional development courses to enable teachers to teach online, and I believe hundreds, if not thousands of teachers benefited from these courses over the last two years. The second big challenge was around the assessments themselves and their delivery under the new guidelines, and here is where the British Council team brought a huge value to the Ministry of Education to schools here.
Additionally, I would gladly like to report that 97% of our schools gave us excellent ratings in the COVID-19 management portal. I believe that has given reassurance to schools and the Ministry of Education that it is safe for our candidates to come and take our exams.
What is the benefit of being a British Council school partner?
Elizabeth White: While there are opportunities for professional development, exchange of experiences, and progression of ideas and practices together, there’s actually more than that, in the sense of belonging to a worldwide organization and community of practice. While being a school leader is different from country to country, it is worth mentioning that there’s a great deal of commonality. It is this community, for me, that is perhaps the most important thing about the partner schools' network.
Fakhar Jaffery: It is the exchange of knowledge and information among a community or a network of 2200 schools globally is what I find the biggest benefit. Egypt’s community of British Council partner schools is very much a part of that global community. And as Egypt’s community is part of a bigger global community, I am certain that whatever we are discussing today here will definitely benefit another school somewhere else in the world.
There are several international education systems in Egypt, among which the British system is the oldest in existence here. I would like to know what sets the British System apart from other international system and what does it add up to the state’s strategy and vision for developing education in Egypt?
Ms. Iman Sabry: First and foremost, what differentiates the British system worldwide is its curriculum and the very well-chosen teaching topics. Accordingly, the outcome is a generation of strongly educated graduates. As for the examination system, integrity is the main pillar, in addition to the possibility of retaking tests which enable the students to improve their weaknesses.
The British education system is very promising for several reasons beginning with how it qualifies students to graduate as strong calibers ready to take on their journey and start a career, to the integrity and safety of examinations, and of course, being the oldest and most trusted system in Egypt.
My final question for Elizabeth is, how do you feel about receiving the Royal Award?
I must say I’m extremely surprised and also very conscious of my undeserving in this regard because I had a great fortune to work with amazing people both within the British Council and the organizations we have worked with. The successes that I have seen during my career have been entirely due to a lot of other people’s contributions. So, I am happy to be accepting the award on behalf of them. The news of the award came out the same day my father left this life, 10 days ago, and I was able to tell him about the award one week beforehand, though it was a big secret and he was very happy and proud. On his behalf, and on behalf of everyone who helped make this happen, I would like to say I’m honored but also very surprised.