December 17, 2014, Cairo – The School of Continuing Education (SCE) at The American University in Cairo (AUC) has celebrated its 90th anniversary year of adult education in a broad range of areas. Established in 1924 as the Division of Extension, the school was first envisioned by Charles Watson, AUC’s founding president, as a public service component of the University, offering lectures, evening courses or fieldwork and opening one year before the university credit courses.With its diversity of programs and offerings, the School of Continuing Education is a real-life manifestation of Watson’s dream of AUC’s outreach and service to a wide spectrum of the Egyptian public. “Through the SCE, the University opens its doors ever year to thousands of Egyptians from all areas,” said Deena Boraie, dean of the School of Continuing Education, adding that the school’s main drive is being responsive to market needs.
According to Lawrence R. Murphy in The American University in Cairo: 1919 – 1987, the Division of Extension began as a forum for lectures by well-known speakers, such as the late Egyptian intellectual Taha Hussein, on topics of “immediate concern to Egypt,” including population growth, education, and social and economic reform. In addition to lectures and film screenings, it worked on improving people’s well-being through village health contests and a campaign to prevent blindness. In the 1940s, the Division of Extension became the “evening college,” then after almost 20 years, it was renamed the Division of Public Service (DPS), offering noncredit evening programs in business, consumer education, playwriting, language studies, secretariat, administration, accounting, fine arts and family education.
In the 1980s, the center grew tremendously under the guidance of Ralph Nelson, dean of adult and continuing education, expanding its offerings in Arabic and business; creating its own English-language curriculum, tailored to the needs of Arabic speakers; introducing one-year and two-year professional certificates, not just individual courses; and initiating evaluative techniques for faculty members, as well as English proficiency entrance exams for participants. The Division of Public Service later became known as the Center for Adult and Continuing Education, and expanded under AUC President Richard Pederson’s tenure to include outreach and full-time career programs in different parts of Egypt, such as Alexandria and Tanta, as well as the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. In 2006 - 2007, the center was renamed the School of Continuing Education, enrolling approximately 20,000 students per year.
“We are a needs-driven business,” Boraie explained. “We are conducting needs assessments all the time, working to identify and understand clients’ desires and requests, and use this information to develop new products and services. So in the 1980s, our focus was on secretarial certificates and IT, and we were one of the first institutions to offer courses in computer studies. Today, we still offer these courses, but our portfolio has expanded to include sales; marketing; human resource management; international accounting and auditing certificates; legal, UN, media and literary translation; TOEFL preparation; teacher training; youth programs and much more.”
And, of course, the English courses –– written, conversational or customized –– are one of the hallmarks of an SCE education. “Right now, there is a tremendous need for English-language training,” affirmed Boraie. “Within the SCE, there are thousands of students who want to learn how to speak and write English properly. It’s an unfortunate reflection of Egypt’s school and university system, and, in that sense, we are providing a form of remedial education.”
Besides English, one of the strengths of the School of Continuing Education is its professional career certificates, which complement, rather than duplicate, a four-year university degree, as Boraie put it.
For Iman El-Zayat, studying at AUC’s School of Continuing Education (SCE) in the 1980s (known as the Center for Adult and Continuing Education back then) was not just a memorable experience, but one that left an imprint on her career and helped her become who she is today –– chief of Arabic translation at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for the past 17 years.
“The basic, and most valuable, difference between the School of Continuing Education and formal education was that it was more career-oriented rather than theoretical,” explained El-Zayat. “It provided students with a practical toolkit for immediate application in real life, and this particular emphasis has enriched my versatility and breadth of knowledge in a positive and focused manner, which reflected in my fast career progression, whether as an instructor at the school, a translator and interpreter, or chief of Arabic translation later on at the IMF.”
For Ahmed Kamel, regional sales director for Travco, the “sharing of experiences and exposure to different industries through the student mix” were some of the main benefits of studying at the School of Continuing Education. More importantly, the communication and presentation skills he acquired, in addition to time management, have helped him become “adaptable and flexible as a professional,” which paved the way for him to be in the leadership position he is in today.
Affirming students’ leadership potential, Boraie noted, “We have to give students the space and opportunity to talk about their experiences and express their ideas, and that is why we initiated the Dean-Student Council. We have 10 students on the council who act as advisers to the dean and school administration. I am learning a lot by listening to them, and it also a learning opportunity for them. Through this council, I inadvertently discovered that we are providing those students with a leadership experience that they never had before. I am very proud that we are able to do that. This is the power of AUC.”