Italian-Style Vocational Education Thrives in Cairo
Vocational high schools have been criticized for failing to keep up with the skills needed in the Egyptian economy, leaving many graduates with bleak employment prospects. But one school with foreign roots, Don Bosco Cairo, appears to be bucking those trends. Most of its students can find jobs as soon as they graduate, managers and former students say.
Ali al-Badri, a 24-year-old sprinkler welder, graduated from the school in 2009 in a class of about 60. “All my fellow students and I were able to find work once we graduated from the institute,” he said. “We were very well qualified in a field required by the labor market.”
Don Bosco Cairo is an Italian technical institute that receives funding from the Italian government and is affiliated with Egypt’s Ministry of Education. Although it charges tuition, its total funding just matches its costs—it does not make a profit. The institute’s headquarters are located on a campus of about three acres in the Rawd el-Farag District north of the city. The Institute also has a branch in Alexandria.
About 700 students are studying at the two campuses this year in two main fields, electricity and mechanics, with a number of subdivisions under each. Students can train in technical specialties like manual or digital controlled lathes, air conditioning, oil-pipeline welding, and automotive mechanics.
Students can enroll at the institute after finishing ninth grade for a three-year program: If they add two more years then they receive a formal diploma. The students are then certified by Egypt’s and Italy’s ministries of education to get a certification in both Arabic and Italian.
The institute also offers training courses for more than 3,000 engineering students annually.
“The Institute is very popular because of the quality of our curricula, which depend mainly on hands-on training and the role of the institute in securing jobs for all its students after graduation,” said Sabri Bakhit, the institute’s director.
The institute has a Graduate Management Office that links alumni with companies and factories with job openings.
“We cannot meet all the demands of companies and factories because our graduates are few in number compared to the labor market’s needs,” said Majid George, director of liberal studies at the institute.
Egypt’s regular vocational-education system educates more than half of the country’s secondary-school students, but critics say the system hasn’t kept up with industry needs and lacks the equipment and faculty needed to teach skills at a high standard. (See a related article, “Egyptian Vocational Education Largely Fails the Country’s Youth.”)
Bakhit said the Don Bosco Institute pays great attention to updating its curriculum and equipment to train its students for the latest work-force needs. “Our students study the use of solar energy to generate electricity—something that is not found in other technical schools,” he said.
Although nothing in the institute’s by-laws prevents the enrollment of female students, all of its students and graduates so far are men only. “The institute’s specialties seem very masculine to Egyptian society, so no female student has ever attended our institute,” said Bakhit.
But study at the institute is not a practical option for many young Egyptians, especially because Italian is the language of instruction. To help students master the language, the Institute offers intensive courses. But the cost of the courses and study at the institute, ranging from 5,000 to 6,000 Egyptian pounds per year ($280 to $340), is regarded as expensive by many potential students.
Others are willing to give the institute a try. “The study costs are expensive, but the payback is worth it,” said Mohammed Sa’eed Hafez, an electrical technician at Suez Cement Company who graduated from the institute in 2014. “We pay nothing for private tutors and we can soon find work after graduation.” (At many higher-education institutions, students have to hire private tutors to be able to pass their exams.)
The institute’s model is difficult to duplicate though, policymakers say. “The Don Bosco Institute’s experience is a successful one, but implementing its model in Egyptian schools is not easy,” said Kamal Mougheeth, an expert at the National Center for Educational Research, a government institution.
“This type of education requires good funding to provide the necessary equipment for practical training and adequate wages for teachers,” said Mougheeth. “The Italian institute, though affiliated with Egypt’s Ministry of Education, is funded by Italy, which makes it possible to provide real machines in the workshops and laboratories for training, and pay the teachers good salaries. This ensures a quality education, unlike other public vocational education schools.”
A public-school teacher receives about 1,500 Egyptian Pounds ($85) monthly, according to Mougheeth. A vocational-education teacher who is also an independent craftsman can earn the same amount of money for two visits to repair a machine, Mougheeth said. “So, the teacher will not be commited to his teaching and will miss classes to attend to his own work,” he added. “This is certainly reflected in the education students are getting at the school.”