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Fathi El-Ashry has bridged academia and development in his role at Creative.
Fathi didn’t intend to start a career in devel- opment. He had a professor position at a uni- versity in Egypt and plans to continue working in academia. But when an Egypt early grade reading program needed an Arabic language literacy expert, Fathi saw an opportunity to put theory into practice. “You can really see the ideas that you read about, that you do research about, coming alive in your work. This brought me a bit out of the university and into the development world,” Fathi says. “I used to say that before going into development, I was preaching about education. When I’m in development, I’m living education itself.” Fathi’s love for education started early. “With six siblings, I was raised in a small village in the Nile Delta in the northern part of Egypt. My parents believed in education for all of us as a way forward. They were educated by heart and experience, not by a formal education sys- tem,” he says. “When I went to school, I found another family there.” Inspired by his teachers and later his profes- sors, Fathi went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Arabic language teaching, a master’s in cur- riculum and instruction, and then his doctorate in special education. But Fathi says his introduction to development in 2010 showed him that education research in the academic world doesn’t always reach the average classroom. He saw language and geo- graphic barriers preventing research and ideas generated in the United States and elsewhere from reaching Arabic-speaking education systems. With one foot in academia and one in Arabic language, he hoped to bridge the gap. “I witnessed the disconnection between what universities are doing and what schools are doing,” he recalls. “These discrepancies were very frustrating to me, and I thought, ‘How can we see what we are doing research on get implemented in schools?’” In 2012, Creative hired Fathi as a consultant on a program in Yemen. A year later, he became a full-time Senior Technical Advisor. Fathi supported programs in Nigeria, Pakistan and Fathi El-Ashry Leading solutions for quality education Staff Spotlight
Afghanistan, where he helped develop curric- ulum, teaching and learning materials, teacher training and more. Fathi currently serves as Creative’s Chief of Party and Senior Reading Specialist for USAID’s Reading for Success – National Program for Reading inMorocco. Leading the program through the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge. However, Fathi and his team have continued to implement activities virtually and reach students and teachers in new ways. The program also cele- brated the rollout of a fully redeveloped Arabic language curriculum for grades 1-6 in August 2020. Fathi says this milestone achievement showed what’s possible when working hand in hand with government partners to scale up and implement change at a systems level. “My hope has been, and continues to be, serving children, especially those with dire needs,” he says. “Through my work in curricu- lum design and teacher training fields, I hope that many teachers are able to support those students and help them to continue their path using quality teaching methods.” Across the many countries he has worked
and roles he has held, Fathi’s work is always changing. Developing and strengthening the building blocks of education for young learners is never-ending and requires him to problem solve and tailor ideas to meet each specific situation he faces. “The most rewarding thing is to be able to adapt or adjust or really open a window to look at things in different ways that suit the new environment where you work. That really takes you out of your comfort zone,” he says. “Even within the same country, you can see that things are working in one area, but they don’t work in another area. The reward comes from howmuch you learn.” Staying flexible is especially important now as education systems and schools continue to grapple with COVID-19 and worry about its long-term effects on children’s learning. For Fathi, meeting the challenges ahead will require the same responsiveness and eager- ness to find what works that has driven him throughout his career. “Education is not static,” he says. “Education is dynamic, and we need to be dynamic too.” n
Photo by Mounya El Asri
26 | Think Creative | Spring 2021
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