CAIRO — Established right in the heart of Marina el-Alamein, one of Egypt's most treasured archaeological sites, a school aims to teach the younger generation the importance of archaeology with both theoretical and practical lessons.
The Young Archaeologist School, which targets children ages 6-16, is overseen by the Department of Museum Education and Archaeological Awareness in the archaeological area of Marina. It is one of several programs nationwide targeting young people, such as the Young Guides program. In a country where the smuggling of artifacts is rampant, these programs seek to instill in young people the importance of preserving antiquities, so that they would take a stance against illegal excavations, smuggling, and buying and selling stolen artifacts.
The Young Archaeologists School in el-Alamein was launched in July 2016. El-Alamein, situated on the northern coast of Egypt some 60 miles from Alexandria, was a major Greco-Roman town and port known as Leucaspis, which was founded 2,000 years ago. The current site includes the remains of more than 50 structures, including a bath, markets and a basilica.
The school offers students fun ways to learn about archaeology by working with models of the historical sites and re-creating the process of mummification. The curriculum includes the archaeological history of Egypt, glimpses of daily life in Pharaonic times and instruction on how to become a tour guide.
Iman Abdel Khaliq, the head of the Archaeological Awareness Department in the archaeological area of Marina and the founder of the Young Archaeologist School, told Al-Monitor, “After I saw students visit archaeological sites with zero interest or enthusiasm, I decided that school visits to archaeological sites should include activities [to attract the youth], so I started the Young Archaeologist School.”
Lectures take place in a room of the building that belongs to the department while the other classes are on-site in the Marina area. “The school offers classes free of charge throughout the year, and it can receive batches of 15 students a month. Classes are limited to one day a week, so students of all ages could still go to their own schools,” she said.
Abdel Khaliq added, “The program includes visiting and introducing students to archaeological areas and training students on tourism guidance according to their ages. Students are asked to explain the history of each piece to their classmates.”
The students can choose different topics according to their interest, one of which is about understanding how excavations work. The students in this group use archaeological models and sand toys for drilling and exploration. Students are briefed about how excavations require attention to detail, meticulousness and hard work. The second group, which Abdel Khaliq calls "the group of artistic creation," gets students to draw pictures of the artifacts, try to mummify a plaster statue or stage Pharaonic burial rituals.
She added, “The Young Guide program was launched by the Ministry of Antiquities across the country and was successful. This is why I resorted to this program as a base for the activities of the school that I founded. There are several activities at the school that are carried out with the Young Guide program. The school is an inclusive body that is not limited to one activity but gets students involved in learning several aspects of archaeology at the same time.”
“At the end of the course, students are quizzed about ancient history and geography, and the winner gets a prize, while all students get souvenirs,” she noted.
Asked about the obstacles facing the school, Abdel Khaliq said, “I am currently covering the school expenses on my own because the Ministry of State for Antiquities is in debt [and unlikely to provide aid]. I would not have established the school, had I relied on their aid.”
Mohamed Sharif Ismail, a parent whose children joined the Young Archaeologist School, told Al-Monitor, “The idea of the school is different. I sent my children to participate in this school's activities as soon as I heard about it and learned how it contributes to raising student's archaeological awareness. When the course was over, my children asked me if they could go again — although children do not usually like archaeological sites. However, this school has adopted a good pedagogical approach that simplifies information about antiquities through activities and games.”
He added, “But the school needs funding. It is based on individual efforts and relies on modest capabilities, although it is important for students. The state must support it."
Rafat El-Nabarawi, a former dean of the faculty of archaeology at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor, “The idea of the school is unique because it creates archaeological awareness among a generation that does not appreciate the value of monuments and gets bored when visiting archaeological sites. This school offers simplified information about mummification and funerary rituals to children through activities, thus making the matter easier to grasp.”
Nabarawi called on the Ministry of State for Antiquities to allocate a budget to support this school. He also called on archaeological faculties at various universities to provide technical support to the Young Archaeologist School by providing teachers capable of explaining the history of archaeology to the young students.