COVID education: a window of hope or the writing on the wall?

Ayat TawelCOVID education: a window of hope or the writing on the wall?

Ayat Tawel


As the third most populous country in Africa with a rising population of over 100 million people, Egypt is facing many challenges that are not unique to Egypt but also apply to many other developing countries, and which can help identify common solutions. Quality education is one of the main challenges Egypt has been facing for a long time, which can be the key to reducing poverty and fostering social and economic development. Lack of quality education increases the risk that young people might be deprived of an education that meets the needs of the changing labour market. This has already resulted in a high percentage of unemployment in Egypt that is officially estimated at 10.31* but is generally considered to be significantly higher.

Some of the challenges facing the education system and directly affecting teachers in Egypt are:

Lack of school facilities

With the growing population and increasing number of students enrolling in schools – average class size of 45 and reaching up to 80 in some public schools – the investment in school facilities is very poor. Many of the public schools suffer from poor infrastructure and especially technological structure which is becoming a priority all over the world after the pandemic. Classes in some public schools are overcrowded to the extent that some students cannot find desks which is an evidence of poor facilities and lack of refurbishment and maintenance. Many schools don’t have a school library, science and computer labs or even decent office spaces for teachers.

Learning/Teaching for exams

For so many years, the focus of education in Egypt has been to pass the final exam to be able to move to the next year or graduate school or university. This placed a high value on exam grades which would decide a student’s future opportunities.

As a response to this heavy focus on exams, teachers who are required to follow the textbook as the main source of the exam started using teaching techniques that depend mainly on memorisation for the aim of long-term information retention. Rather than being engaged with the content of the lesson and encouraged to use critical thinking, students were directed towards rote learning and memorisation to be able to quickly recall the information in the final exam. This lack of engagement has turned the students into passive learners and had a negative impact on their motivation and the value they placed on education.

Quality and access to professional development

With lack of resources, teachers need to know what they can do with their limited resources and how to develop themselves professionally within the structure they have. If they are obliged to teach for the exam, finish the curriculum and make sure their students can retain information in the exam, how can they be creative and go beyond information retention? That’s one reason lack of teacher training and professional development is the biggest challenge facing teachers in Egypt. Researchers, authors, and teacher trainers are coming up with new tools and teaching techniques to help teachers develop and create a better learning experience for their students. However, without formal training opportunities, some teachers get lost and give up while those who are keen on their professional development, try independently to find out how to utilise these new tools in their classes. This can sometimes result in inconsistency in their teaching styles which might lead to frustration and lower job satisfaction. Teachers based in cities far from the capital or living in urban areas struggle to join any professional development events as most are held in big cities like Cairo or Alexandria, which is not convenient.

Before the list of challenges gets longer, I will shift now to looking into how these challenges have changed recently. While the corona virus pandemic has impacted the educational system in the whole world, its effect in developing countries was greater as they were not yet ready for new changes. So, let’s look at whether these changes are windows of hope or the writing on the wall for the educational system in Egypt.

Lack of school facilities

If we look at lack of refurbishment and maintenance as an example of poor infrastructure before COVID, we might think that suspending studies and closing schools for months made these challenges less important. However, as teachers were required to continue teaching online, other challenges such as the lack of communication and information technology infrastructure became a high priority post-COVID. Though the government had already made some efforts to digitalise Education in Egypt by launching the Egyptian Knowledge Bank (EKB) as a free source for educational materials, teachers knew very little about it until all school syllabuses were uploaded to it following the outbreak of COVID-19. So in spite of the fact that this step was a milestone to improve Egypt’s educational system, it had seen little progress as there was no clear strategy for students and teachers to follow.

Learning/Teaching for exams

In response to the pandemic and to minimise interaction between students during exams, a new examination system was introduced which required students to submit research papers based on what they have learnt in class or online. Unfortunately, neither students nor teachers were ready for this step as writing research papers was not one of the skills students usually learn at schools. Besides, the criteria for evaluating the students’ research papers were not clear to teachers. As there has always been a heavy focus on exams which can determine a student’s future, parents started writing and submitting the research papers for their kids . This resulted in kids not being evaluated accurately and teachers giving grades for work that doesn’t represent the student’s performance. In the long run, teachers will be filling in these gaps in education the following years and will still be expected to ensure quality!

Quality and access to professional development

Besides the open sources created by the government for all sectors of education such as  the EKB and other platforms, many other organisations started offering free online events for teacher development.  This made training opportunities more accessible and convenient for all teachers across all cities as they could join them from the comfort of their own places without having to commute or paying extra cost.

During the last year, some international associations such as IATEFL and TESOL organised many free events that covered a wide range of topics for teacher development. Nile Tesol is another teacher association in Egypt that has nine Special Interest Groups (SIGs) in all fields of teaching such as learning technology, teaching young learners, assessment, inclusive teaching, research, among others. Last year, Nile Tesol SIGs organised online monthly events on topics that addressed the needs of teachers in Egypt, taking into consideration the changes and challenges of the educational system pre- and post-COVID. The British Council and RELO have also contributed a lot to the development of teachers during this difficult time through many teacher development programs.

To wrap up, we all agree that COVID brought many challenges to education. But we should use COVID-19 challenges to pay more attention to the quality of education, continue to develop digital platforms and integrate sustainable education so we can improve the resilience of our education system and achieve sustainable development (Biltagy, 2021).

So, do you think COVID opened a window for hope or was just the writing on the wall?


Biltagy, M. (2021). How did Covid-19 Pandemic Impact Education in Egypt? Euro-Mediterranean economists association.

2018: A Journey of Discovery

Ayat Tawel2018: A Journey of Discovery

by Ayat Tawel


It’s this time of the year when some of us believe it’s just another year of our life coming to an end, or maybe think negatively about how time flies and whether we’ve achieved some of our goals or not. Reflecting on 2018, I see it as one of the years I am so happy about. As teachers, when we think of highlights of the year, we start thinking about our professional development or what we have achieved in terms of working with our students or colleagues. But it is more than just that; it is also what we did in our life outside the classroom that might reflect on us as human beings and thus as educators. I believe every year brings us new opportunities to learn more about work, others, and ourselves. In this post I will share with you what I explored in 2018 about teaching, teacher training, and also about myself.


For me, the first highlight of the year in terms of professional development was going to the IATEFL 2018 conference in Brighton. It was a dream that I never knew could come true. After attending and presenting at both local and international conferences, going to the IATEFL meant more than just attending one of the most important ELT global events. It was an opportunity to meet other educators, learn about new teaching practices in different contexts, and share ideas with educators, authors, and publishers from all around the world. Apart from visiting the UK for the first time (one of my dream destinations, too!), the days spent at the conference were such an amazing, inspiring experience.

It started with the IATEFL LTSIG (Learning Technologies Special Interest Group) day, which was focusing mainly on the use of VR (Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality) in education. Some of the ideas presented and were open for discussion among the audience afterwards were about how AR increases engagement and gives learners the opportunity to experience what might not be possible to experience in real life.  “Feeling” the experience through virtual reality can help students to better remember and express what they learn. We also explored how VR is used now in different fields, such as healthcare, space, museums, shopping, military, etc. Though virtual reality can offer students the opportunity to access the best education facilities, attend school wherever they live, be homeschooled, or even go to university without worrying too much about costs, it has its challenges. Some of these challenges include price, tech problems, and even health issues as there have been cases of students reporting nausea.

The best part of that day was when we got the chance to experience virtual reality ourselves and go on virtual tours to different countries through the amazing VR set of Heike Philip (one of the speakers at that event, a renowned Ed Tech trainer who co-initiated some European projects and online events on the use of technology in education). You can see me going on a virtual tour in Paris in the photo.

I won’t talk about all the wonderful sessions that I got to attend and the famous speakers in the world of ELT that I got to meet, listen and talk to during the conference. I have been following or working with many of those speakers and authors online for some years, so it was truly exciting to finally meet them and share my ideas and thoughts face-to-face.

As it’s not always easy to buy ELT resource books in my country and ordering them online takes time and costs a lot, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity given to IATEFL attendees to meet authors and publishers and buy some of the recently published books at a reduced price. The following are three of the important books I bought and recommend for all, especially those who are interested in educational technology or experimenting with different teaching methods:

  • Best practices for blended learning, a very interesting and practical book that is full of ideas for educators who would like to implement blended learning in their teaching;
  • ETPedia technology by the amazing Nicky Hockly. It’s a valuable resource book for teachers that has 500 practical ideas for using technology in the English language classroom. You can also find quotes by educators who used some of these ideas in their classes all around the world – and my testimonial was among those, which definitely added to my excitement of owning that useful resource book;
  • Scott Thornbury’s 30 Language Teaching Methods, a small, pocket-sized book that summarises the most famous teaching methods in an engaging, simple and informative way.

Teacher training

Working closely with both trainee and more experienced teachers was another highlight of 2018 for me. During the summer I worked on designing training materials for trainee teachers and a mentoring program, and it was an eye-opening experience as I learnt how to identify and address teachers’ needs. Team teaching was one aspect of the training that we were trying out for the first time and which proved very useful for both trainees and experienced teachers. Taking this experience further, I worked with experienced teachers following the same approach but focusing more on teacher independence, giving teachers the opportunity to lead their own training programs and choose areas of development according to their needs and teaching priorities. That was another insightful experience as I had to find the balance between being a teacher myself and a trainer and how each experience feeds into the other. All the help and encouragement I got from my mentors this year has also helped me develop more as a trainer and showed me how to be supportive in a way that guarantees others still have the freedom to choose their own path to professional development.

Outside the classroom

Finally, I would like to share with you a personal highlight of 2018 for me. We can get so busy with teaching even outside the classroom, as we think of what we would be teaching the following day, or how to find a solution for that behaviour issue in class, or have to write a lesson plan for an observation. Among all this and while I was thinking I needed a change, I received an interesting email with an invitation to join a detox program. The program was not only about the food we eat, but also about our emotional and mental detox. It’s a program for finding physical and mental harmony in addition to work-life balance. Besides eating green, natural, and unprocessed food in order to get rid of all the toxins we get through our meals, this program took me on a journey of emotional detox. It started with an emotional reset as we got rid of the toxins caused by stress by doing some exercises, setting goals, and practicing self-love talk. I was introduced to new food, recipes, and tastes that I had never tried in my life. I had the opportunity to meet many inspiring ladies who were a great support on that journey, including the amazing coach Shahinaz El Tarouty. I also started setting different goals for my personal life, such as taking up different activities that would help me enjoy life more and gain different experiences. One of the goals I set after that program is learning a new language and I already started taking a Turkish course a couple of months ago. I am really enjoying that feeling of being a student in class, learning a new language and going through everything my students experience when they start learning a language.

I am really proud of everything I did and everyone I met in 2018. Above all, I am grateful to the iTDi family, who not only contribute to our professional development through their courses but also give us a chance to reflect and share our thoughts with other educators on this blog. I wish all educators a wonderful new year full of success, health, and love!

From a Sister, For a Sister

Ayat Tawelby Ayat Tawel

“Sister, each of our lives will always be a special part of the other.”


Since I first decided to take part in this “From the Teacher’s Family” issue, I have been very excited about what I will hear from a certain member of my family, and to have the chance to share it with readers in the outside world. I also want to thank iTDi for sharing their ideas about what kind of questions we can ask in such an interview. I chose to interview my younger sister, Emy, who is also a teacher, but teaching a different subject, Science. I am very grateful to Emy, for not only talking about me as a teacher, but also about how having two teachers at home can affect our lives.


Ayat: What are some good things about having a sister who is a teacher?

Emy: Well, I can’t think about having a sister who is a teacher away from being a teacher myself. So, as a teacher, having a sister who is also a teacher is very good indeed as she can understand any problems I might face at work, and give good advice, while other people can’t really get what I’m talking about. We also have more things in common to talk about and experiences to share, which nobody else is as interested in as we are. Lastly, a teacher-sister can guide you in how to deal with other people as she interacts with kids, parents, colleagues, and managers who shape her experience of how to build relationships with different kinds of people.


Ayat: Were there ever any moments in your life when you wished I wasn’t a teacher?

Emy; Yes, this happens when you talk about problems you encounter at work or with students. You don’t usually hear about such kinds of problems from other people. These kinds of student behavior problems, for example, can make you stressed, upset and can negatively affect people around you. At such moments, I wish you weren’t a teacher.


Ayat: Was there a moment when you were very proud of something I did as a teacher?

Emy: Yes, of course. I feel very proud of you when people talk about good things you’ve done, when your students talk excitedly about how good you are as a teacher and I see how you affect their lives a lot, even for years after they have moved to other grades or even finished school. I am also proud of you when you talk happily about your mentors or colleagues’ feedback about your work.


Ayat: Do you think I am well suited to be a teacher?

Emy: I believe so, because you have the talent of teaching; being able to teach, engage the students, and make teaching fun and a memorable experience for the students. I also think you’re well suited as a teacher because you love what you’re doing. You love your job, which makes it suitable for you.


Ayat: Why do you think I became a teacher?

Emy: I don’t really know, but maybe because you used to love English as a school subject! Oh, yeah, and you used to like one of your English teachers at school, who taught you for more than one year. You always saw him as your role-model and wished you could be like him one day”

Ayat: Actually, that’s true. I have always seen this teacher—Mr. Khaled—as my role-model and the best teacher ever. I used to do everything he asked us to do so as not to upset him. And I was always looking forward to his classes. He was very dedicated and used to give me positive feedback on my performance, which gave me more self-confidence. I hope I can invite him to one of my classes one day and listen to his feedback. I hope he is proud of me as one of his students!


Ayat: How would our lives change is I stopped being a teacher tomorrow?

Emy: Ohhh, that would be great!! hahaha!!! I think we would have more time to sit together and talk about more funny topics. We would enjoy doing some other activities in life that we can’t do because we are busy teachers. But then I will have to stop teaching as well so that we can really enjoy it!

So, that was what Emy thought about having a sister who is a teacher. I enjoyed listening to her replies as it was the first time I had the chance to hear one of my family members reflect on my job. I noticed that it was not easy for Emy to do so as she had to take some time to think of the answers before speaking. I believe that’s because we just live our life—with all its good and bad moments—without stopping to think about our relationships with the people around us and reflect on them.

Emy’s reflection on our life as sisters and teachers was honest and kind. She could show me a clearer and deeper version of our daily life and how it’s affecting our work-life balance. She also made me think of how important our job is. Every moment we spend planning before class or teaching in class can make a big difference in our students’ lives. It happened to me when I was a student, as I still remember Mr. Khaled and owe a great deal of my success now as a teacher to him.

I was surprised that Emy got excited when I asked about the moment I might stop being a teacher. I could see very well how being a teacher can fill up a big part of our life, depriving us and the people around us from enjoying our personal life more. I think my mum would also agree with that. I will consider giving more to my family and personal life. Life is lived only once, and we can’t make up for any wasted moments.

Finally, I advise everyone who reads this post to spend some time with an important person in his/her life , such as a family member, and start thinking and reflecting on your life, job, interests and needs. You will definitely get closer and will learn more about each other and how to enjoy life more together. Thank you Emy for being a life time blessing and source of inspiration.

Challenges, Project and Opportunities – Ayat

Enjoy the Challenge & Move Ahead – Ayat Tawel

Ayat Tawel

Challenges are tests. Either you pass them and celebrate moving one step ahead or just surrender and stay still in your place. Since I opened my door to the online virtual world of wonders, my professional development as a teacher and my whole life have changed a lot.

The first challenge I faced was how to apply what I had learnt in the TESOL Electronic Village Online session Becoming a webhead – my first ever online course – into the classroom. Having low tech resources at my school – no internet connection or a computer in class- was a big challenge that couldn’t stop me from achieving my goal of putting onto practice what I learnt to make learning a language as communicative and authentic as possible.

I was able to collaborate with my dear friend and colleague  Maria Bossa, an EFL teacher from Argentina, who used to be my colleague at the same course . I used my own laptop and USB Internet connection to have my students interview Maria via Skype about Argentina as we had part of our curriculum about South America. I was also interviewed by Maria’s students in a similar context.

Having very positive feedback from our students, we decided to extend the project by starting a Facebook group where students from both countries could communicate, interact and learn from and about each other. Having passed this challenge successfully, I was able to go beyond Skype and Facebook in other projects.

In my second collaborative project, I went a step further as I collaborated with a colleague from Canada – starting a reading project where our students were able to read a book, learn vocabulary, analyze events and answer questions in Edmodo. They were able to work in different small groups and were able to exchange cultural information about their own countries by the end of the project.

Joining online communities doesn’t only allow you to learn new things and collaborate with other colleagues to open your classroom to the world, it also gives you lots of opportunities for professional development. Being offered opportunities to present my projects at online events such as Learning2gether, VRT and RSCON was another challenge which I could pass and even get rewarding constructive feedback. However, it left me thinking how I can pay back to such online communities that shaped and enlightened my journey of professional development. I thought volunteering to help moderate or facilitate some of these online events is the best I can do.  However, it actually gave me more than I could give as it opened another world  – which is called voluntary though you’re actually paid a lot.

RSCON was one of the big online events in which I had the honor to be a presenter and a moderator. As a moderator, you are offered pre-conference hands-on training on how to manage a room, deal with technical problems, introduce presenters and help participants before, during and after live-sessions . That’s not the only thing you’re offered; joining organizers and other volunteers in a backchannel room is a real joy. We spend days and nights planning who will moderate which session, moving from one room to another, joking around and definitely learning from each other. It is one of the most enjoyable experiences I have had.

The last challenge I want to share with you is one we all come across, which is how to spend the summer holiday, without feeling bored and if we can get some professional development to refresh our experience without spending too much and at our own pace … whenever and however we can and want.

iTDi solved this challenge and offered me all this in one place!! iTDi is an exceptional community committed to providing teachers with all kinds of inspiration and all the professional development they need. Since I joined iTDi, I have been getting regular updates of ways I can enhance my career. To start with, iTDi mentors, associates and educators from all over the world share their experience, new trends and various ELT topics in inspiring blog posts monthly. They can change your classroom into a different and more creative one every month if you apply new ideas shared and it can also keep you learning something new from each and every post.

The blog posts range in topics from research to practical classroom techniques and anything else you might think you need to learn. Another important and main iTDi activity is the teacher development and Advanced Teaching courses.

But  back to the summer holiday challenge, I have had the most fruitful summer ever this year. I was able to join the iTDi Advance Course Breaking into Business English. It was perfectly designed to suit teachers with good or little experience in teaching Business English and  was offered by Vicki Hollet –  an exceptional figure in the field of Business English. I was able to learn with and from other colleagues through live sessions, forum discussions and sharing lots of resources in the course forums on the iTDi site. The course was four weeks long, but you get access to all resources for ever – making it all an ongoing place for sharing and collaboration .

Going beyond business English, iTDI has generously started its first Summer school MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). It’s a course that extends for a month with daily live sessions in almost all ELT topics. You can enroll anytime and attend 30 live sessions offered by presenters from all over the world. The first week was exceptionally inspiring starting with a keynote by Vicky Loras showing how teachers can collaborate together no matter how far in distance they might be, adding their human touch to the educational process.  More practical classroom ideas on how to better teach teenagers, the use of art and storytelling in the classroom and rapping your vocabulary lessons with rhythm and rhyme, to examples of successful collaboration projects were other sessions of the week.  I couldn’t imagine I would get so much involved in a session about poetry. However, being very creative, Chuck Sandy could get almost all participants to innovate ways to use poetry in the classroom. He was even able to get all participants excitedly collaborate in making up a poem by just sharing the first line and then asking everyone to add a line. Yes, all this and much more is offered in one place: iTDiMOOC and for free.

If you haven’t registered yet, don’t worry. You can watch the recordings at any time and still enjoy wonderful sessions for the coming weeks. Among many wonderful sessions, I am excitedly looking forward to Budi’s session on how to make writing fun and engaging as my students have always found writing a bit boring, and also Vicki’s session on how to make videos, which is a skill that can change many classroom activities into more engaging and motivating ones.

So, I will be waiting for you at iTDiMOOC. Enroll now for free, but don’t forget to also join iTDi as this MOOC is just one of lots of goodies offered from

Forgive my enthusiasm, but being a part of the iTDi community has changed my life!


Join Ayat and more than 30 other iTDi presenters for the iTDi Summer School MOOC live through August 17th 2014. Enroll anytime and get lifetime access to all recorded #iTDiMOOC sessions, tasks, quizzes, and discussions. View the complete #iTDiMOOC Session Schedule and enroll today.