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I have been an elementary and secondary school teacher and administrator. Currently, I am a faculty member in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. My M.Ed. and Ph.D. had a focus on the educational and linguistic experiences of children who moved from other countries to Canada.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Reflections on learning in Egypt: The "similarities" and "differences" of the world

Last week's experience of supporting the professional learning of educational colleagues in Egypt, and also travelling in the country, reminded me of how similar the world is ... and how different.

Here are three ways in which I observed how "small" and similar we are:

  1. Technology ... everywhere we went, we were asked to be part of "selfies" with Egyptians and to be "friends" on Facebook. Since returning to Canada, conversations continue using various social media.
  2. Relationships ... we quickly formed relationships with teachers, school directors, and tour guides. People genuinely desire to know and be known.
  3. English as a world language ... from Aswan to Luxor to Cairo, we had no difficulty communicating in English (although everyone also appreciated our feeble efforts at Arabic greetings!).

Yet it was also apparent that there are still significant gaps that limit our global connectivity. Here are three differences I observed:

1.  Massive slums ... I was struck by the "bigness" of Cairo and its many impoverished communities. I heard various estimates of its size - from 10 million to 27 million - but, whatever the actual size, it is clearly a massive, sprawling city with many people living in poverty. Of course, there is poverty in big cities of Europe and North America, but the scale of it was what struck me. I wonder: How many of the children who live in these slums are in school? What are the social and economic opportunities available to them?

Source: Dreamstime.com
2.  Divides between the "haves" and "have nots" ... those who are part of the tourist industry, or who service that industry, typically have means to support themselves. Our Egyptian hosts (at the school and while touring) had their own apartments and vehicles. However, many people that we observed were clearly lacking in the means to support themselves. Of course, there are haves and have nots in North America and Europe but, again, it was the scale of difference that struck me. I wonder: What kind of a social safety net is available? How does poverty impact the ability of families to move from being a "have not" to a "have"?
Our hotel for part of our stay definitely categorized us as "haves"
3.  Pervasiveness of the government and military ... in the vast majority of places we visited, there was a very strong military/security presence. Most Egyptians that we discussed this with were appreciative of this high level of security because they felt that it enhanced their ability to go to work, school, etc. Of course, there is a strong security presence in North America and Europe (maybe becoming less discrete and more apparent?) but the pervasiveness of it in Egypt was what struck me. It made me wonder: What degree of freedom of movement and speech would be tolerated? How does the pervasive armed presence effect one's psyche (i.e., in a non-conscious way)?

I could add many more "glocal" connections after this trip to Egypt and I'm gratified by the many reminders I had that "people are people" no matter where you go in the world. An endearing reminder of this will be the many people who offered assistance to us while travelling or who stopped us to exchange a few greetings and to take a "family portrait." 

Yet, it's important to recognize that our world is still a very big place with massive differences that define, distinguish, and divide us.

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