Shedi wants to help us know what our pets are saying

Literacy classes in Egypt are inspiring children with more than just words

Shedi, 10, wants to be an inventor. Or an oil engineer. But mostly, an inventor.

“I want to invent a machine so that if we have a pet the machine can help us understand the words that the pet is saying,” he says. He has two cats, Mish Mish and Rita, and a dog called Raad, which means “thunder.”

Shedi is imaginative. His big brown eyes light up with excitement when talking about his idea. But his progress at school has been hampered by a system that is failing him.

At full strength, the literacy programme can accommodate more than 20,000 students.

Egypt ranks 145th out of 148 countries in the World Economic Forum’s report on quality of education around the world. Egypt’s huge population and struggling economy mean that school classrooms are frequently packed with more than 100 children. Teachers are underpaid. Children are drilled to learn by rote and critical thinking is not encouraged.

Shedi has been going to literacy classes that are being offered by the Bible Society of Egypt at his church. For 18 years, the Bible Society has been running these classes across Egypt, supplementing schooling for younger people and offering the opportunity of literacy to adults who never got the opportunity to learn.

The Bible Society literacy programme incorporates Bible stories in the curriculum and uses a participatory method to encourage students to ask questions and speak up if they don’t understand something. Trained volunteers teach 700 classes across the country.

At full strength, the literacy programme can accommodate more than 20,000 students.

The class Shedi attends is in a 4th century church in Giza. It’s a short drive to the pyramids, along dusty, windy roads. Boys ride donkeys laden with produce through the streets. Pigeons and chickens are piled up in baskets along the road.

“If anybody needs help, I must take the initiative and help.” – Shedi

In the classes, Shedi feels free to speak and ask questions about difficult words which he doesn’t understand.

“In school, we’re not allowed to ask questions,” Shedi says. “But here, I’ve learnt a lot about those difficult words. I’ll be able to come here to church to ask about it.”

Shedi is receiving more than just help with reading and writing. Before he joined the classes, his priest himself would often dread Shedi coming to church. Shedi was a trouble maker.

Now, the priest says Shedi is learning about responsibility and caring for his neighbour.

“I learnt from the Good Samaritan,” he says. “If anybody needs help, I must take the initiative and help.”

Shedi says he initially signed up to the classes to play with his friends. But the students in Shedi’s class obviously want to learn. They concentrate on their books and hands are raised quickly to answer questions. And now Shedi’s hand is right there alongside, waving in the air, eager to answer. Eager to ask.

Bible Society is aiming to teach at least 60,000 Christians to read by 2020 and provide each of them with a Bible. That means they need to double the number of literacy classes they ran last year. It’s an ambitious goal. But with your help, it’s possible.

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