Meet Hoda Mamdouh. She’s a 17-year-old girl from the lush Nile Delta region of northern Egypt. Like most teenagers her age, she loves playing sports and listening to music. What makes Mamdouh different is her scientific research that’s taking her places she never imagined.
Last May, Mamdouh and two classmates traveled halfway around the world to compete in the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in the United States. Together these high schoolers found a way to purify drinking water—from either taps or well—using 24 percent less energy than typically used in thermal water distillation. They won second place at Intel’s national science fair in Egypt. And at the global competition in Southern California, they placed third in their category among 1,600 of the best and brightest students in the world.
“Coming here was a turning point in our lives,” Mamdouh says. “We went from memorizing every day at school to doing real research. Everyone’s a teacher, and everyone’s a student.”
This state-of-the-art model for public education was introduced to Egypt by USAID’s Hala ElSerafy, a senior education specialist at USAID’s mission in Egypt, and her team of experts. Instead of using your average high school curriculum—which in Egypt is rote memorization—these students become scientists in the classroom and learn from hands-on experiments and open dialogue.
USAID partnered with the Ministry of Education to build and develop the country’s first two STEM schools three years ago—one for boys and one for girls. “The idea is to raise a generation of critical thinkers and future leaders,” said Maadi school principal Samia Ahmed. “We believe our youth can solve Egypt’s grand challenges through science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And, so far, our experiment is working.”
Currently, 300 students attend the girls’ school and 357 students attend the boys’ school, both located in suburbs outside Cairo.
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