MARJ3, a Platform Linking Youth and Education, Takes a New Path After Covid-19

/ 08 Jun 2020

MARJ3, a Platform Linking Youth and Education, Takes a New Path After Covid-19

CAIRO—Since 2016, an organization called MARJ3 has been helping students find news on scholarships and educational opportunities both inside and outside the Arab region. But the recent embrace of e-learning by academic institutions in the Arab region as a way to counter the spread of the novel coronavirus has caused a major change in the way the team works.

“Before the Covid-19 outbreak, we were informing students of the available opportunities and scholarships mainly through introductory [in person] seminars and workshops, in addition to advertising them on our website,” said Abdullah Samy, a co-founder of MARJ3. “But that has now changed.”

The platform has stopped all activities based on face-to-face communication, Samy said, and replaced them with online communication and video clips. The content has also been developed to match the growing number of online educational opportunities available today.

MARJ3—the name is a modified spelling of an Arabic word for “reference”—was born through the effort of three entrepreneurs, Sami al-Ahmad, Ahmed el-Gebaly and Abdullah Samy.

Al-Ahmad, a young Syrian who relocated to Cairo after war engulfed his home country, was working on Khatwa, an initiative encouraging displaced Syrians to complete their education. Later, he realized that the issue was not restricted to Syrians or refugees only and wanted to help anyone and everyone in the Middle East and North Africa region who was looking to pursue an education, a better professional opportunity or a career change. He and el-Gebaly and Samy then established MARJ3. Access to the website is free, although the organization charges universities to post about available opportunities.

“Before the Covid-19 outbreak, we were informing students of the available opportunities and scholarships mainly through introductory [in person] seminars and workshops, in addition to advertising them on our website.”

Abdullah Samy   A co-founder of MARJ3

MARJ3 recently launched a Course Directory where students can search and compare distance-learning courses and trainings and the possibility of joining them without the difficulty and health risks of leaving home. The directory has been updated to focus on colleges that offer distance learning with the possibility of comparing universities in terms of number of years of study, cost, and teaching methods.

“Universities need access to students in their homes, and students need guidance and assistance to choose what suits them,” said Al-Ahmad. “Mutual needs have doubled.”

With the imposition of restrictions on travel in many countries, the number of visits to the MARJ3 website actually decreased in the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. “Many people lost hope that they could travel and study abroad,” Al-Ahmad  said. “But announcing opportunities for distance study and explaining how to achieve this has increased the number of the platform’s visitors to 2.5 million visits last month.” A once-ignored form of learning is suddenly facing growing demand, he said.

Still, MARJ3’s team faces various challenges related to their work style and communication with students as well as the slow response of universities in the region. “Everything has changed rapidly; study, work and human communication, yet many academic institutions in the region are still hesitant about the complete transformation of online education,” Al-Ahmad added. “This hesitation is reflected in students who are also afraid of moving to this type of study.”

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Al-Ahmad explains that students’ enthusiasm for e-learning is diminished when they consider its logistical requirements, such as having a good Internet connection and a personal computer. (See a related story, “The Shift to Online Education in the Arab World Is Intensifying Inequality”). In addition, many students are not accustomed to distance studying, worry about the lack of direct and actual communication with the professors, and are afraid of not being able to accredit their degrees later, Al-Ahmad said.

“Through our online consultations, we try to answer all inquiries and provide advice on how to study remotely and how to better manage time,” he said.

“Through our online consultations, we try to answer all inquiries and provide advice on how to study remotely and how to better manage time.”

Sami Al-Ahmad   A co-founder of MARJ3

Despite the tremendous potential of distance learning, numerous real-world problems still limit its spread. These included restrictions on Internet availability and speed in various countries, in addition to the expense of personal computers and smartphones. “There are certainly a large number of students who are not able to access us now,” Al-Ahmad said.

Current users of MARJ3 who are able to get online access say it is useful.

“MARJ3 is basically an online platform—you don’t go to an office to get information and advice, all of its educational services are online. But the current conditions have highlighted the importance of the services it provides,” said Salma Merhabi, a Ph.D. student in chemical engineering who got an Australian Research Institute grant at the University of New South Wales, in Australia.

Rania Taha, a science student at Minia University’s department of chemistry, believes that the platform needs to help people get personal assistance and advice on how to apply for specific grants and training courses. “The platform is good, but I need to communicate personally to find out about the special grants that suit me, as I am dealing with this for the first time,” she said.

MARJ3 is working on a report that includes students’ experiences and impressions of distance learning in a way that allows universities to identify what forms of learning students prefer. The platform’s programmers are also working on an electronic system that helps students assess their qualifications and capabilities and if they are eligible to study in the discipline they want to.

“We need more time to fully adapt to the requirements of the new reality,” said Al-Ahmad. “Today and tomorrow’s life will never be the same as yesterday.”




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