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Word of the talented faculty at the Salesians’ vocational institutes has spread to the Ministry of Education, which is now playing catch up. This past autumn, representatives from the ministry approached administrators at the institute in Cairo about training 200 public school teachers in classroom technology and teaching methods. Don Riccio, the headmaster, expects to sign an agreement with the ministry soon.

Needless to say, the Salesians’ schools are wildly popular in their respective communities. Parents concerned with their children’s education clamor to enroll their sons. The school in Cairo admits only 180 boys a year. But when registration day opened last summer, within just three hours, parents of more than 700 teenagers showed up to apply for admission. Don Riccio described the day as a “mob scene.”

While the schools cannot accept everyone, their admissions policies are “need blind.” Salesians never reject any student because his family cannot afford the tuition and fees.

“Because so many of our students’ families have trouble paying, we give grants based on merit and need,” explained Don Souccar, headmaster of the institute in Alexandria. “We spend a lot of time trying to sort this out.”

The cost of attending one of the institutes, including tuition, fees and books, runs about $447 an academic year — a hefty sum in a country where the average household income is only $860 annually. Most working-class families simply cannot afford the tuition; the desperately poor cannot even fathom it.

In an effort to make a Don Bosco education accessible to students of all economic backgrounds, the institutes offer grants and scholarships, ranging from 20 to 100 percent of tuition and fees. About 12 percent of each institute’s students receive financial support.

As a major component of the Don Bosco approach to education, the Salesians and their lay colleagues insist parents play an active role in their child’s education. Mr. Tawfik describes education as a triangle, in which the student, teacher and parents each make one of its three sides. Without all three parties holding up their respective sides, the triangle collapses.

To encourage parental involvement, each year the schools host seven mandatory parent-teacher conferences and organize three lectures for parents on the vision and philosophy of St. John Bosco. Egypt’s public schools almost never include parents so directly in a child’s education.

“Parents who are serious about their children’s future are usually impressed by our system, and some are pleasantly shocked because they have never seen anything like it before in Egypt,” said Mr. Tawfik.

“It shows parents that we care about their children — our students — and that they are in good hands here.”

Speaking from his bright, airy office, Don Riccio agrees that education involves more than teachers simply transferring knowledge and skills to students. Education should also help improve the quality of students’ lives, and therewith build better communities.

“Our purpose here is not to form new technologies, but to form citizens, good citizens. It is about building a human person,” the Italian-born priest said. “That is by far harder to teach than math, chemistry or mechanics.”

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