Community-Based Learning Broadens Perspectives, Social Understanding

Reem Deif, a psychology major and development studies minor, went to an orphanage every Saturday to teach children with learning disabilities Arabic, math and general skills through the nongovernmental organization Wataniya. Deif’s weekend routine formed because of her Third World Development class, a community-based learning course which encourages students to work on a community service project throughout the semester to learn about contemporary developmental theories.

“I chose to work at the orphanage because of a conviction that the best way to achieve development is to work with individuals,” Deif said. “I feel that children are the most important and most fundamental category in society because if you know how to bring these children up properly, you can have development in the long run.”

Through her weekend trips to the orphanage, Deif learned about the nuances of development work. “In the classroom, we discuss international issues and theories, but most of these theories don’t work in real life,” Deif said. “Engagement in fieldwork is a criticism to these theories. What’s in the book is totally different from the real world.”

Deif’s Third World Development course is just one of many community-based learning classes at AUC that integrates community service with the academic curriculum. The community-based learning program was established in 2008 and has been applied to a variety of courses at AUC, from the sciences to the arts.

Another CBL class, Labor Economics, encourages students to work with underprivileged communities. Taught by Mona Said, associate professor of economics, the course gave students the option of working with organizations that paired job seekers in Ain El Sira with potential employers. In this way, the students gained insight into the difficulties that the unemployed face in Egypt and learned about labor economics by serving the wider Egyptian community. “I think it’s very important to introduce students from the outset to what they will face in academia in terms of a balance between theoretical understanding and applied knowledge,” noted Said. “If they don’t plan on continuing in academia, then I introduce them to a toolkit that can be used in their future jobs.”

Several community-based learning classes encourage students to serve communities even closer to home. In his Principles and Practices of Teaching English course, Hossam El-Din Attiah, an instructor in the Department of English Language Instruction, has his student teach English to workers at AUC.

“At the beginning of the semester, my students are assigned a class of AUC workers whom they teach according to methodologies they study in class,” Attiah explained. “There are many workers who are appreciative of this practice and would like their lessons to even go beyond the scope of class time.”

The students, in turn, are motivated by the workers. “Their dedication to their studies is quite inspiring,” said Reem Hashem, a psychology senior. “Their dedication motivates me to become a better teacher.”

Aya Ghraoui, a business sophomore, also acknowledged how teaching English helped her acquire important skills. “Teaching my students gave me more patience, and it made me a better teacher and better presenter,” she said.

These community-based learning classes do not simply expand students’ breadth of knowledge about academic theories and teaching techniques, but have also broadened their social and cultural understanding. Attiah explained that through their English classes, students were able to gain a different perspective of AUC workers. “Several students have told me: ‘We never noticed those people on campus before. They were invisible to us, and now when we see each other, we greet each other or talk,’” he said. “And I think this is a very healthy relationship in a country where there is this great social segregation. Through their interaction, students are able to see a side of the worker’s lives that they wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else.”

Similarly, Deif has gained insight into a different segment of Egyptian society through her Saturday classes with orphans. “Orphans go to public school, don’t get a proper education, have to leave the orphanage at the age of 18 and often end up being street children who engage in crime, drug use –– you name it,” she said. “These children are treated differently because they’re orphans. It’s frustrating the stigma that society has toward these kids, so now it’s a challenge for me that I need to face because it’s not just about teaching them math, Arabic or English, it’s about working with their self-image.”

Photo caption: Students in the Principles and Practices of Teaching English course taught English to workers at AUC