The power of education
BY REHAM BARAKAT
The power cut in Heliopolis over the past few days, which is a negative thing, strangely left me with a positive thought. It reminded me of 16-year-old Egyptian Azza Abdel Hamid. She was the winner of the 2011 European Union contest for young scientists who discovered a way to turn plastic into biofuel.
Yes, I thought, maybe a generation of young Egyptians will conjure up positive and effective solutions for alternative energy that will help plunge Egypt into a more progressive and environmentally-friendly future where we have less power outages and modern sustainable energy resources.
Another example of an Egyptian female who makes us proud is 19-year-old Aisha Mustafa who proposed a way to launch spacecrafts off the surface of the Earth and into space without fuel. Her theory is that since space is filled with quantum particles that jump in and out of existence, she suggests using thin silicon panels to trap these particles, move against them and create a propelling force which will make space exploration lighter, safer and cheaper than traditional blast off methods.
Both these young girls are a bi-product of our nation and gave me a shimmer of hope against the nihilistic talk we might feel about our country’s future. And the added element is the fact that they are women. Although it’s a point that should not be exaggerated because since we supposedly live in the modern world gender is considered a politically incorrect concept, but in Egypt it is an issue.
But I could not help myself think of what would become of these two brilliant minds if they are not nurtured, encouraged and endorsed to continue in their fields of study and excel. I hate to turn my tone into a negative one, but I believe that if Azza and Aisha wish to pursue their scientific endeavors and are not provided with the correct guidance, research institutions, funding and communal support, their brilliance could go to waste.
My mind started drifting far away to extreme places where I imagined that the girls were told to give second place to their passion for science in the name of pursuing a forced traditional role where a woman’s place is in the home (not that I am against women who choose this as a lifestyle). I thought of the fact that they might not find the right mentors and professors because their minds were too advanced and so would be deflated and find themselves sitting on a bench in university following a traditional and possibly limited curriculum and unable to express their creative and ingenious thoughts.
I thought of the fact that there might not be sufficient institutions in the first place within the country which could support their research ideas. I thought, what if they did not find funding to go abroad where they could possibly thrive and resemble Mr. Zuweil. I then found my positive thoughts about these young girls and their ideas turn into a spiral of anxiety and sadness about what could happen if our newly appointed government and minister of education specifically does not provide a solid and compelling platform for young minds of brilliance.
For years, we have all heard and reiterated among ourselves that the key to Egypt’s progress is education. And for years we should continue yelling it out to the powers that be. Education is the key to the future of this country, education is the only way forward, education should be of the highest standards possible. A large portion of the budget of this nation should be pushed in that direction because the raw minds are available — all they need are the correct resources.
For years, women have had to fight for their place in the society as equals to men and we have all also reiterated that they should be given their rights. This battle should continue to be fought vehemently for girls like Azza and Aisha so that they can find their place in the scientific arena with ease and with rights. Women are an integral half of the nation not bystanders on the sidelines.
I write all this as the new government has just been sworn in with the hope that nurturing the brilliant minds of Azza and Aisha are a priority. If they’re not, we might as well let Egypt plunge into an intellectual outage where all the lights go out day and night on the future of zealous youth.
Reham Barakat is a Cairo-based commentator and creative writer.