Lessons from Finland: A Conversation with Pasi Sahlberg

Al-Fanar Media is an independent nonprofit news organization. Our focus – which is unique to us – is education, research, and culture in the Arab region. All of our stories, commentary and resources are published in both Arabic and English.

In a region where the contributions and potential of education have often been neglected, we provide information and perspective about successes and challenges, models of excellence and cautionary tales. Our reporting is often the only reliable, independent reporting available on these topics, and we strive to provide our readers with rich context and analysis. Our goal is to be an essential resource for them, providing insights and information to catalyze action; bringing like-minded individuals and groups together; and holding government leaders accountable for harmful policies.

Our team commissions and edits all of our articles. We work with journalists across the region, many of whom we train and mentor, to develop story ideas and conduct reporting. We also commission and publish commentary, actively seeking out diverse voices, especially among Arab educators, researchers, and thought leaders. Our lens is wide-ranging: we’ve written about water scarcity, patterns of disease, educational programs for refugee youth, artists, musicians, university admissions policies, gender, the Arabic language, archaeology, and more.

We believe that independent, analytical journalism about these topics is vital to the foundations on which stronger and more equitable societies can be built.

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Al-Fanar Media was started in 2013 as a project of the Alexandria Trust, a London-based nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing educational access and quality in the Arab region.

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Our Staff

Nadia El-Gowely – Executive Director 

Nadia is a seasoned Egyptian journalist who spent 35 years with the Cairo-based Reuters Arabic News Service. She joined the international news agency in 1984 as a fresh graduate to become the first woman on the then all-men team of the Arabic desk. She moved all the way up from a sub-editor to financial news editor and finally head of the whole service from February 2018 to June 2021. She also taught media translation, writing for radio and TV, and news documentaries at two Egyptian universities. Between 2006 and 2007 she was editor of the English service of the independent news agency Aswat al-Iraq, a Reuters Foundation/UNDP project. She also ran dozens of training courses in news reporting and writing in several Arab capitals.

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Mohammad El-Hawary – Editor

Mohammad is a journalist and media development consultant. He worked as editor-on-duty of the Al-Masry Al-Youm Daily Newspaper. A journalist interested in scientific affairs, and a member of the Arab Science Journalists Association (ASJA), Mohammad covered many scientific, medical, environmental and strategic conferences and events, inside and outside Egypt, in his 17-year-long career in journalism. He has also worked as a media trainer on basics of journalistic writing, investigative journalism, features, press international standards, journalistic work ethics, local journalism, TV production, podcasts, and science journalism. He has contributed to the development of many training manuals. El-Hawary works as a consultant for media training and development, media strategies, public image management, and media content production. He has conducted workshops at a number of Egyptian and foreign universities and institutions inside and outside Egypt. In TV production, he worked as an editor-in-chief and managing editor of several talk shows and news bulletins on Egyptian and Arab TV channels. As a speaker and mentor, El-Hawary participated in many conferences and forums, besides being an analyst and commentator guest on a number of Egyptian, Arab and foreign TV channels.

Charles Huckabee – Senior Editor

Charles is a freelance editor and writer based in Washington, DC, where he was a copy editor and news editor at The Chronicle of Higher Education for nearly 20 years. He has also served on the news and copy desks of several daily newspapers, including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Virginian-Pilot. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of South Carolina, where he also did graduate studies in journalism. He has contributed articles about classical music to several newspapers and is an active chamber-music player in the Washington area.

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Robert Holloway – Senior Editor

Robert is an Anglo-French journalist with considerable experience of the United Nations system. He worked for 33 years for Agence France-Presse, where he held various positions including editor-in-chief, foreign editor and head of the English-language service. From 1999 to 2003 he was AFP’s correspondent at the United Nations in New York.
In 2007, he set up the AFP Foundation, a not-for-profit media training organization with a focus on development. For eight years he worked with UNDP to train journalists, notably on conflict prevention in Lebanon. After leaving AFP in 2016, Robert worked as a consultant for the European Fundamental Rights Agency to develop an online handbook for journalists on covering migration which emphasizes the importance of objectivity, impartiality and independence. He was also the founder-chairman of the board of Africa Check, the first fact-checking website in Africa, created by the AFP Foundation in 2012.

Ismail Alashwal – Arabic Senior Editor

Ismail Alashwal an Egyptian journalist and content developer who has 13 years of experience working for pan-Arab media outlets including Al Shorouk, Al Sharq Al Awsat, Russia Today, Al Jarida and Al Wasat. He also received several media workshops from prestigious media organizations like BBC, The Free Voice, UNESCO and The Egyptian Journalists Syndicate.

Ismail was awarded with 3 media awards between 2014 & 2015 from the Media Diversity Institute on covering religious minorities, press interviews and covering local affairs He also delivered different journalism workshops and he’s a published author of short stories in different publications. 

Nasser Zawk – Director of  Communications 

Nasser is a communications professional with a background in graphic arts. He has over 10 years of experience working as an art director, online marketing manager, communications manager, and scholarships manager with several international organizations, including Solidarités International and LASeR (Lebanese Association For Scientific Research). He holds a bachelor’s degree in visual communication and graphic arts from the Lebanese University.

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Omar Mostafa – Digital Strategist

Omar Mostafa is an Egyptian journalist, trainer and an expert in digital media. He works in media since 2002 as a  journalist, product development manager, trainer and media consultant.

Omar has been working as a trainer and a consultant for digital media projects since 2009; he’s a certified trainer who trainer dozens of Egyptian and Arab journalists on the fundamentals of online journalism, as well as taking part in developing several online journalism projects in cooperation with different professional and academic organization in Egypt and the world including Thomson Reuters Foundation, BBC Media Action, Deutsche Welle Academy, The American University in Cairo, Kuwait News Agency and others.

Omar studied journalism and he holds a Media Management MBA from the German University in Cairo, in addition to many professional workshops on journalism, technology and training.

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Catherine Mikhail – Senior Fundraising Consultant

Catherine Mikhail is an Egyptian independent senior fundraising consultant based in Cairo, with over ten years of experience in the fundraising industry. She worked for different not-for-profit organizations in Egypt comprising the ENID/El Nidaa Foundation, initiated as a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project titled: “Egypt Network for Integrated Development” aimed at empowering impoverished women and youth in Rural Upper Egypt and the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS) where she managed fundraising activities, donor relations and grants in different areas including peacebuilding, cultural development and women empowerment. She also worked for the Economic Research Forum, a regional network for advancing quality economic research in the Arab countries, Iran and Turkey, where she supported the implementation of a pan-Arab project addressing environmental challenges in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Throughout her career path, Catherine contributed to the design and development of business development strategies and annual work plans in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She promoted the establishment and extension of partnerships with the private sector and civil society as well as identified and expanded networks of prospective donors and sponsors. Furthermore, she managed the organization of conferences and dissemination events in the Middle East. Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Economics in International Development from the American University in Cairo and a B.Sc. in Economics from Cairo University.

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Amr El Tohamy – Staff Writer
An Egyptian journalist based in Cairo, Amr has nearly ten years of experience in writing news and reports about politics, education, and economics. Previously, he worked for Al-Masry Al-Youm, a newspaper published in Cairo. He has worked as a writer Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Amr has collaborated with international press organizations such as The New York Times, The Washington Times and The National, and holds a B.A. in Journalism from Cairo University.

Tarek Abd El-Galil – Senior Correspondent

Tarek is an Egyptian journalist. He was a deputy manager for the correspondents’ section at Tahrir newspaper and a correspondent at correspondents.org and Al-Hayat TV. Tarek has a BA in journalism.

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Gilgamesh Nabeel – Translator

Gilgamesh is an Iraqi freelance writer and translator based in Turkey. He is the author of a published novel titled “The Struggle of Mask” (2016) and the translator of a book titled “Creative Industries in Syria: Changes and Adaptation” into English (2020). He writes essays and articles on Middle Eastern politics, education, art, literature, and women’s rights. Some of his essays have appeared in Al-Fanar Media, Modern Discussion, the USA Today, Washington Times, Al-Monitor, and other American newspapers. He has active Facebook pages on art and archaeology. He carries a bachelor’s degree (M.B., B. Ch.) from Egypt’s Kasr Al Ainy school of medicine.

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  1. Nelly, thanks for doing this interview. He makes some really contextual and sharp points about what is wrong with education in our region, and what can be learned from the Finnish experience. Two things stood out for me: the equity emphasis, and that education does not work alone, it works within an entire society. And of course the point about how teachers wanting to innovate pedagogically are restricted by structural issues such as school leadership and standardized or national testing. I will try again to read his book, Finnish Lessons

  2. I particularly liked his mention of the importance of pre-school in a child’d development and how critical it is for the child’s future development.
    Lots of awesome thoughts and lessons to be learned here. Thank you for this!

  3. Thank you Nelly for a great interview. i really liked that Sahlberg pushes us to answer the question: what is education for? the answer to this question allows us to explain many of the practices in our Egyptian educational system. You plan your education system to accomplish a larger societal goal. In the absence of this goal, ours is left to reproduce inequalities in education, in the labor market and in life chances. moushira

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