Malak Zaalouk, professor of practice and director of the Middle East Institute for Higher Education (MEIHE) at the Graduate School of Education, The American University in Cairo (AUC), was recently named chairperson of UNESCO’s Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL), making her the first Egyptian to be elected to this post.A board member of UIL since 2012, Zaalouk is also the first Egyptian woman to serve on this governing board. Stationed in Hamburg, UIL is a leading institution in promoting the philosophy of lifelong learning. It has three areas of interests: adult education, literacy and basic skills, Zaalouk explained. “UIL is strong on research and very strong on policy,” she said. “It’s really upstream, so it supports governments to figure out which policies they need to implement lifelong learning in nation states.”
Zaalouk’s new post comes after a lengthy journey in the field of education and empowerment through lifelong learning. After receiving her BA in political science and MA in sociology, both from AUC, she earned her PhD in social anthropology from Hull University. She also holds a diploma in educational planning from the International Institute of Educational Planning in Paris. In addition, she worked on several education councils, such as the Global Monitoring Report, the Girls’ Advisory Council and Egypt's Presidential Specialized Council for Education and Scientific Research.
Over the years, UIL has gained itself a reputable standing in terms of fundraising and is in charge of one of the most valued periodicals in education, the International Review in Education, where Zaalouk also serves as a board member.
As director of AUC's MEIHE, which connects universities to schools and policy makers to students, and uses advance research to implement education reform, Zaalouk maintains and advocates the philosophies and mandates of UIL’s mission of endorsing lifelong learning while adhering to gender sensitivity, development and social equity.
As chairperson, Zaalouk will be working on maintaining current strategies for enhancing government policies, such as the UIL’s Recognition, Validation and Accreditation, which offer equivalences through governments that aid young adults – particularly the marginalized or excluded – to catch up in case of missed years of education. “There is a lot of focus on the disabled, the marginalized, and how you can allow them to learn as well,” said Zaalouk, adding that a lot of the UIL’s efforts are directed toward early childhood education and professional development.
Moreover, Zaalouk aims to synergize more educational programs, particularly in this region. “I want more attention to Arab states, and Egypt, of course,” she said. “We do have major problems that require attention; there are emergencies, refugee issues and so many challenges in our region that require attention to ensure that we don’t have generations of youth and children not learning.”
UIL’s Global Network of Learning Cities, which falls in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, particularly creating and maintaining sustainable cities, is one of the models Zaalouk applies to her practice at AUC. According to UIL, learning cities are “areas that effectively mobilize their resources to promote inclusive learning from basic to higher education, revitalize learning in the family and community, facilitate learning in the work place, extend the use of modern learning technologies, enhance quality and excellence in learning and foster a culture of learning throughout life.“ Currently, Giza is one of UIL’s learning cities, which Zaalouk participated in selecting as a board member.
In addition to advocating for more learning cities within Egypt, Zaalouk always seeks to advance her students’ learning experience. “Universities can be lifelong learning institutes, allowing students to be civically engaged in communities and not stick to a strict curriculum,” she said. “At AUC, I encourage my students to go back to their families’ roots, figure out where they come from and work on those areas -- not necessarily the capital. Students are graded based on how creative their research projects are in terms of building a learning city.”
Three of Zaalouk’s students, who worked in Sharqiya, Monofiya and Cairo, were selected as part of UIL’s internship. Zaalouk’s admiration for her students lies not only in their academic achievement, but rather their enthusiastic future plans. “They created a global network of youth ambassadors for learning cities, and in September, they will travel to Cork, Ireland, where they will kickstart this movement – these three young women, from Egypt, from AUC,” Zaalouk said proudly.
For Zaalouk, her work at both AUC and UIL is part of a wave of education reform that emphasizes the necessity of education by encompassing a wider range of humanitarian values. “It’s about equity, equal opportunities and inclusion. It’s a very humane perspective,” she said.