Barry Newstead, Frank Schulenburg, Moushira Elamrawy and I (Sara Yap), traveled to the Middle East in October to meet with Wikipedians in the Arab world and begin the expansion of the Wikipedia Education Program. Adel Iskandar, a professor at Georgetown University who taught in the U.S. Global Education Program pilot, joined the team to meet with professors and Wikipedians in Qatar, Egypt, and Jordan. These meetings will inform the planning of the Arabic Education Program, which will be launched in 2012. Over the course of a 14-day visit to Egypt, Jordan and Qatar, the Wikimedia team connected with local experts, university staff, student groups, and attendees at an Arabic Wikipedia Convening in Doha which was co-hosted by WMF together with the Qatar Computing Research Institute. The convening focused on ways to catalyze high quality growth of the Arabic Wikipedia across the Middle East and North Africa.
In collaboration with local participants, Wikimedia Foundation aims to develop the quality and quantity of contributions in Arabic Wikipedia. The trip to Egypt, Qatar, and Jordan was extremely valuable due to the large contribution of the faculty and students we connected with at the universities. To gain a better vision of how to launch the program, we conducted about 30 interviews with professors who teach at Ain Shams, Cairo University, American University of Cairo, University of Jordan, and Qatar University. Through the recommendations of personal contacts and faculty, we met with professors who may be a part of the Global Education Program pilot in MENA. Some learnings include:
- The amount of Arabic readership has increased post-Arab Revolution; people want to learn more about current news and global events, especially within the MENA (pronounced MEH-NA).
- People shared the need for an increase of content in Arabic. Most convincing was a brochure (created by LiAnna Davis and David Peters) that outlined the huge digital divide between the Arabic Wikipedia and other Wikipedia language versions. Some people indicated that they were ashamed by how small the Arabic Wikipedia is compared to e.g. the Portuguese Wikipedia (especially given the fact that so many more people speak Arabic).
- We need to begin with the Education Program with a small pilot and then reiterate.
Wikimedia Meetup in Cairo
With volunteers as the foundation of Wikimedia’s projects, the meetup in Egypt connected our team with the community. For the Wikipedia Education Program, we need a network of local volunteers to support the pilot program (either as Campus Ambassadors, or simply by agreeing not to revert edits automatically), and the willingness to continue on with the Wikimedia project at large. We hope to have more meetups in the region soon and would be interested to hear your thoughts on ideas for future events. Questions and comments from the attendees included:
- Who leads and verifies the corrections on Wikipedia?
- Many people don’t know that they can edit Wikipedia – can the Wikipedia “edit” button be larger?
- If the Global Education Program continues in the MENA region, it will be important to emphasize in the curriculum: how to cite, why students should reference work and be provided with the tools to do so.
The Global Education Program team aims to hire a local team, formalize contacts with professors, and finalize a list of professors and schools to recommend for the program. The Wikimedia team will return to the region in the next few months to conduct trainings for the Global Education Program at universities. The Wikimedia Global Development team would like to hear your thoughts on working in the Arab world, a promising region that we believe will play a significant role in increasing content on Wikipedia.
Mea Salama | مع السلام | With Peace,
Sara Yap, Catalyst Projects, Global Development
Arabic Convening References:
 Barry Newstead’s Slides from the Arabic Wikipedia Convening in Doha, Qatar
 Frank Schulenburg’s slides on the Global Education Program
 Wikipedian Cipher’s Slides on MENA Region Insights and Statistics
 Moushira Elamrawy’s Slides from the Arabic Wikipedia Convening