EL MARG, Egypt: In this shanty northern Cairo town, children can be seen at all hours of the day running barefoot through the dusty streets playing football. Alongside one match, a narrow branch of the Nile is overflowing with garbage. Some 350,000 people call El-Marg home and, of those, a great majority are children. Due primarily to poor urban planning and cultural behaviors brought by immigrants from rural governorates, development in El-Marg has been slow at best. A new program launched by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is seeking to achieve development goals through educating and empowering youth. The Education Reform Program (ERP) is one of a number of programs recently created for the accelerated change of Egypt s education sector by getting local communities up to speed with the demands of the global job market. The $63 million (LE 361 million) program will work toward this goal in the seven governorates of Cairo, Alexandria, Fayoum, Beni Sueif, Minya, Qena and Aswan. Governor Abd El-Aziem Wazier of Cairo was joined yesterday by Reda Abou Serie, undersecretary of the Minister of Education, and USAID Egypt s Director Kenneth Ellis to lay the cornerstone for part of a new six-school complex in El-Marg. It is a happy day to place the cornerstone at one school, says Wazier, speaking before a tent packed with dignitaries and members of the local community. Today we are placing the cornerstone for three schools. Schools in El-Marg currently sandwich-in an overwhelming 60 to 80 children per classroom. Teachers are overburdened and school facilities are quickly deteriorating due to the daily traffic. The new campus, when completed, will consist of six schools for more than 10,000 primary and secondary students. In all, 250 new classrooms costing approximately $15,000 (LE 29,000) will be completed for use in El-Marg by the 2007-2008 school year. We chose El-Marge because it presented a challenge, explains Wazier. We could have chosen someplace easier, but easy is not always better. We are honored to work with the Egyptian Ministry of Education toward our common goals of reducing student density in classrooms, adds Ellis. Together, we support critical thinking in these young minds and encourage innovations fundamental to the future of education in Egypt. Several components are essential to the success of the ERP. Program administrators assert that schools must meet the national standards in order to ensure quality education. Equally important is community participation. ERP supports community participation initiatives in areas including school governance, early childhood education, access to school, as well as adolescent and adult learning. These initiatives, if supported by civil society organizations, are expected to be the stimulus for visible progress. In keeping with the government s push toward decentralization, the Ministry of Education is working to hand over responsibility for implementing the ERP on a governorate, district, community and school level. Through a network of support, the program aims to develop local institutions, such as Boards of Trustees and community development organizations. Also important are the activities the program will focus on outside the classroom. As part of the initiative to bring six new schools to El-Marg, six feddans of the surrounding land have also been designated as part of the schools property for providing clean, safe facilities for the children to play on. There has to be space for the children to do other things. They have to exercise, says Ellis. While the Ministry of Education is responsible for the maintenance and up-keeping of school facilities, USAID officials say they are committed to the continued training of teachers. In all, 158 primary teachers will receive training in active learning and critical thinking skills; 52 preparatory teachers will learn critical thinking methods in math, science and Arabic; 17 teachers will receive training in physics for secondary education; 43 will learn comprehensive assessment; 38 primary school teachers and 87 preparatory and secondary teachers will learn techniques for capacity building; 69 primary teachers will train in lesson planning and 93 teachers will attend conferences on teaching English. USAID does contribute to training programs, adds Ellis. Teacher programs are making a big difference in the quality of education.