Today is Day One for on-the-ground research in Cairo. The streets are packed with taxis, men bicycling with wooden trays of aish (meaning “bread” and “life”) on their heads and varieties of t-shirts being sold that are emblazoned with “I Love Egypt”. I’ve arrived at a sensitive, yet hopeful time in the country’s current state of affairs. The conversations are abuzz with people talking about politics, protests and what the future holds for the country. I will be in Egypt for the next nine days, as well as in Qatar for the Arabic Wikipedia Convening and in Jordan to research opportunities in the academic community as we find professors interested in adopting a project called the Global Education Program. I have been tasked by the Wikimedia Foundation to help with an initiative that aims to increase Arabic Wikipedia content, as alluded to in this recent post about the Arabic Catalyst Project.
My colleagues Barry Newstead, Frank Schulenburg, Moushira Elamrawy, Professor Adel Iskandar from Georgetown University, and I will be doing research for this project.
Today Adel and I set off to our first school, Ain Shams. The meeting with Dr. Iman (photo) proved hopeful because of her students’ subject matter for their research. They are doing quite a bit of publishing in the realm of Egyptian history, theatre, drama and general research that could enrich the Arabic ecosystem on Wikipedia.
The challenges will be steep because of the lack of computer access on campus; however, the content for the project seems somewhat promising because of Dr. Iman’s track record at the school, her tight knit relationships with her students (graduates would still willingly share their research work even after finishing the university), the level of her students’ research (with citations) and her interest in the program. Some of the subjects her students have written thesis papers on include:
- History of Censorship in Egypt
- Egyptian Arabic Theatre
- Dissidence in Society: Comparisons in Theatre Plays
- Theatre of the Revolution
- Voices of the Marginalized
Through discussions, the key lessons that may help the Global Education Program include:
- Learn from the current Wikimedia community in the MENA region
- Encourage new ways to successfully build the projects
- Find ways for students to succeed by having them write on topics they are actually interested in researching.
- Incentivize the program by finding academic rewards (whether it may be through grades, letters of recommendation, etc.)
- Leverage the current situation around the Arab Revolution to move students’ disenchantment with the academic system towards improving the relationship between the teachers and students at the university
This project comes at a time when many administration and faculty members are leaving the university. Tomorrow we set off to the campuses of Cairo University. It’s so good to be back in مصر/Egypt.