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The Nutty Scientist: Changing children’s attitudes toward science

While science is usually associated with lab coats, test tubes and eye masks, it is rarely associated with birthday parties and camps in Egypt. Sherine Ibrahim, the owner of the Nutty Scientist program in Egypt, has opened the European-American franchise in the hope that all of that will soon change.

“When we returned from the US, I felt Egyptian children needed a chance to discover science, to give them a better quality of outings and activities,” says Ibrahim. “We are in the market for the added value.” 

The Nutty Scientist is held in the Science Museum, which is also part of the Child Development Foundation, a multi-branched corporation that Ibrahim founded with the aim of “developing young families.” The holistic approach targets children, parents and teachers as well, according to Mostafa Abu Samra, the Nutty Scientist's managing director.

Amal al-Sayed Ekram sent her 5-year-old daughter to the Nutty Scientist's "Unleashing the Genius" camp this summer. “The Nutty Scientist is a big shift in children’s activities in Egypt,” says Ekram. “The caliber of trainers and professors there is very high. They are all engaged in what they are doing.”

"In order to choose our instructors it is important to find people with not only a science background but also experience with children and a mission; they should be able to stimulate young minds and ignite their curiosity,” Abu Samra says. Students in the program call their instructors "professor."

While the Nutty Scientist was a originally a franchise with its own mission, when it was brought to Egypt it needed to adapt to the Egyptian market by reducing costs and crafting its own mission, Abu Samra says. The organization hopes that “by 2050 there will be many Egyptian nominees for the Nobel Prize who originally graduated from the Nutty Scientist club.” 

The program begins children in the first level, "Unleashing the Genius," which is designed to break the barrier between children and science. They can then go on to the second level, which will begin in October, which will prepare children for observation and examination. When those two levels are done, the children can then join the science club. The syllabus for that club comes from the parent company and covers six strands of science: Earth, life, humans, chemistry, physics and astronomy.

In the first two levels, the age groups are 4-6, 7-9 and 10-13. For the science club, the students are divided according to their academic years.

Ekram’s experience is not restricted to the camp; the Nutty Scientist also hosts birthday parties and children’s events at the Science Museum. “I had my daughter’s birthday party there, the team did a science play for the children and then had many team-building science activities that they all enjoyed," says Ekram.

The Science Museum is a small villa situated near the Sheraton Hotel. The entrance is a gate which leads into an open courtyard suitable for children to play in, with a few benches on the sides where parents can sit. The three-story villa entrance is a small side door which leads into a dark blue showroom. The top floors have basic science equipment and instruments for the children to experiment with. 

Takwa Nasser, a parent who also sent her children to "Unleashing the Genius," said, “I was rather disappointed in the facility itself, however, I know they haven’t been open for long.” Nasser said her son, Omar, who is interested in science, was very excited and she will probably enroll him in the second level. Her daughter however, did not enjoy the program much.

The Nutty Scientist also takes children to schools and puts on science plays in which riddles are solved through scientific explanations, as well as hosts after-school activities. During school hours, the Nutty Scientist can assist with curriculum-based activities. The Nutty Scientist can also host culture weeks, in which the school selects a science theme to incorporate into its educational activities.

The Nutty Scientist's Facebook group is updated daily with brain teasers and science facts, in order to promote the idea of science being fun.

Hedaya Abdel Fattah, marketing executive of the Nutty Scientist, says the key is a shift in the culture. The Nutty Scientist is designed to boost children's' thinking skills and expose them to science not through memorization, but understanding.

"My daughter gained self-confidence in science and was indirectly learning basic concepts in a fun manner, which is totally different from what we are used to when dealing with science [in Egypt]," says Ekram, who does not have a science background at all but found that her daughter is a curious, exploring type. She believes the Nutty Scientist is a perfect outlet for her daughter.

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