We’ve all struggled with the tedious task of memorizing the functions of the brain and the heart to pass our science exams. Egyptian science lover Ahmad Sameer has also faced the same struggle, but now asks different questions from those we had to answer on those tests. “How do we read people’s minds?” or “Can love really kill”?
Such questions later became episode titles on Egycology, a YouTube channel that Sameer launched with his friend in the beginning of 2015 to make science closer to people’s everyday lives.
“There is a general misconception that science can only be learned through boring lectures or jargon-infested books,” explained Sameer in an interview with Wamda. He was referring to his ambition to replace this impression about science with a more positive one through producing edutainment 10-minute videos. Since they launched the channel, Sameer and his four partners have succeeded in attracting around 140,000 subscribers.
Egychology is only one initiative of many that have mushroomed during the last six years in the MENA region to produce digital scientific content in Arabic. Other examples include YouTube channels Aldaheeh, Hal Ta’lam?, Espetalia, and Ta’amal Ma’i, in addition to websites that mostly publish translated articles such as I believe in Science, Phi Science, Real Sciences, and Syrian Researchers, and podcasts such as Tesla, Ilm FM and Scientific American.
The significance of these initiatives lies in the region’s need for a project that can pull it from its very poor scientific performance. The region’s negligence in scientific accomplishments is apparent first in the TIMMS 2015’s results in which the nine participating Arab countries were ranked at the very bottom. It is also apparent in the region’s very low contribution to R&D, which reaches as low as 2.3 percent for 2015, a percentage uncomparable to other regions specifically Asia of which the contribution reaches 41 percent.
Science in Arabic?
The English language predominates scientific research worldwide. This affects the delivery of scientific content in Arabic-speaking countries where English literacy is the worst in comparison to other regions.
“We cannot expect all Arabs to learn English just so that they can understand science, we must bring science to them in Arabic,”explained Sari Sabban the host of the scientific podcast Ilm FM during an interview with Wamda. “We should custom tailor education especially science to our culture rather than do the opposite,” he continued.
Sabban believes that the availability of free or affordable web 2.0 platforms has encouraged people like him to start their own local initiatives especially after it became easier to program websites in Arabic. The low cost of doing podcasts is what mainly triggered Sabban and his partner to start the show. “Science by default has a low following and picks up slowly, having low cost platforms allows us to take larger risks, or survive longer until we build a fanbase,” Sabban said.
Essam Fawwaz, the CEO of I believe in Science website which publishes scientific articles, infographics and videos in Arabic, agrees on the importance of producing Arabic scientific content. Fawwaz confirms that “publishing in Arabic allows Arabs to follow up on scientific progress especially that they have been absent from the radar for so long, it also helps lessen the inequality between Arabic speakers and speakers of other languages”.
Regardless of the initiatives’ different methods: audio, text and video, most of them are similar in their nonprofit model, which is a threat to their sustainability on the long run. Sameer is worried about the sustainability of his channel and wonders how he can make profit while insisting on producing free content.
In conclusion, it looks that online scientific content in Arabic is seeing the light giving hope to the region’s sluggish scientific state. But with the absence of funding will scientific initiatives be able to sustain their content and audience? And will the region be able to bear better results in universal indicators?