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Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

The Education Crisis in Egypt: Between Reality and Hopes

Education Crisis in Egypt
Pupils participate in a choir at the Mahaba school in Ezbet al-Nakhl, a shanty town north of the Egyptian capital Cairo, on October 13, 2018. In a Cairo slum the poorest of Egypt’s poor who eke out a living as scavenging through garbage have been struggling to keep their children in school and lead them out of their misery. MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/ AFP.

Naglaa Mohamed Mohamed

The pre-university education sector in Egypt faces challenges that impede its growth, performance and efficiency.

The global competitiveness indicators issued by the World Economic Forum, from 2007/08 to 2019/20, indicate Egypt’s rank among 137 countries.

Egypt secured the 93rd place in 2019, compared to 94th in 2018, 100th in 2017, 115th in 2016, and 116th in 2015. Indicating a terrible shortcoming of the pre-university education.

The major problems are as described the follows:

  • Student density in classrooms rose during the last five years for all public pre-university education, at the rate of 5.11 per cent between the school years 2015/16 and 2019/20. Meanwhile, the relative increase in private education is stable, reaching only 3 per cent during the same period.

The main reason is the lack of educational facilities and the high tuition fees of private schools. These costs are unaffordable to the average citizen with their limited income, which piles on pressure on public schools, leading to an increased density.

  • Areas deprived of education have increased by 6.5 per cent in the countryside and its outskirts.
  • High dropout rates, which, in the preparatory education, exceed other stages and are more severe in rural governorates. Also, dropout rates rise above average within 12 of the urban governorates.
  • Weak curricula and the necessity to enhance teachers’ capabilities to match technical advancements in science.
  • Unemployment rates are high among technical school education graduates, as they constitute nearly half of the unemployed. The poverty rate among them is higher than among those with general secondary education by about 6 per cent, and it increases with university degree holders, as technical education accounts for 40 per cent of preparatory education, branching out into about 200 majors in 2019/20.

What are the efforts of the Egyptian government to overcome these problems? What are the difficulties that prevent the completion of the education reform process?

Looking at the 2014 Constitution, which devoted five full articles to education. Article 19 of the constitution stipulates that “every citizen has the right to education intending to build the Egyptian character, maintaining national identity, planting the roots of scientific thinking, developing talents, promoting innovation and establishing civilizational and spiritual values and the concepts of citizenship, tolerance and non-discrimination.”

It also allocated 4 per cent of government spending for education, which will gradually increase until it meets global rates.

The Ministry of Education has taken several steps in the path of reform, from development plans to legislations.

Those efforts revolved around the new Egyptian education system, which aims to make amendments to the curricula and educational culture to transform it from a system that only qualifies the student for the exam to a way of life so that it can nurture innovative qualities and critical thinking of students.

The strategic plan for pre-university education aims to build a society based on learning and an economy based on knowledge through several goals.

The most important of which is the comprehensive development of young people, while instilling the spirit of citizenship and tolerance, and the right of every child to receive an educational opportunity that fits international quality standards by adopting reforming policies following the United Nation’s Charter.

Moreover, the 2019/20 plan aimed to develop basic programs, which are as follows concerning the pre-university education stage:

  1. ‘Pre-school Development Program’ aims to develop the creative, cognitive and physical abilities of children in the age group (4-5 years-old).
  2. The ‘Primary Education Development Program’ aims to provide high-quality education for all children from the beginning of the primary stage until the secondary stage, through expanding the establishment of classes and the access of all students to meals.
  3. In line with international standards, the ‘Secondary Education Development Program’ (general and technical) ensures preparing qualified graduates for higher education, skilled and able to learn and compete in global and local markets.

To implement the previous programs, a strategic plan was developed through four focal points:

  • Developing the educational system.
  • Amending the high school system.
  • Opening Egyptian-Japanese schools.
  • Technological schools for technical education.

First: Developing the Educational System

The government has developed the educational system for the pre-school stage by developing the curricula coherently. Exams have been cancelled in the first and second grades and replaced with applications that measure students’ abilities.

As for the fourth to sixth grades, the student’s achievement level is measured with grades (excellent – very good – good – pass – fail), as the format of the exam questions has been changed to reveal students’ comprehension of educational curricula and not just to memorize it.

All of the above came in conjunction of providing digital curricula for grades from the second primary to the third preparatory.

Second: Amending the High School System

The government announced the amendment of the secondary education system so that the evaluation will be over three years. The government gradually started a plan to digitize the educational curricula starting from the 2018/19 academic year.

One million educational tablets were distributed free of charge to first-year secondary students as an experimental plan to continue with them until the third secondary grade, without changing the curricula.

Third: The Egyptian-Japanese Schools

Egyptian-Japanese schools were deployed in 2018/2019, beginning with 35 schools and another 7 schools that opened in the 2019-20 academic year, and applications were limited to pre-school and first-grade students.

Fourth: Technological Schools

Technical education and vocational training in the future strategy Egypt Vision 2030 has a large share of the social objectives.

The name of the new technical education schools (the dual education system) was changed to become “Schools of Applied Technology,” in which the student obtains a certificate of applied technology.

It is a three-year system, where there are 55 per cent of preparatory graduates in the technical education schools, which are 1,300 schools across Egypt.

Despite the development plans, the problems of pre-university education have persisted to the present time. Perhaps one of the most important reasons is the lack of qualification of the education system requirements, namely the student, the teacher, the school, the administrators, the curriculum, the follow-up and the evaluation, to suit the new circumstances.

Obstacles to Educational Reforms

Education Crisis in Egypt
Egyptian students attend a secondary school class at the “Futures Tech” private school in Cairo on October 23, 2013. Classes are overcrowded, curriculums out of date and facilities crumbling. In Egypt, frustrated parents have for decades relied on private tutors. KHALED DESOUKI / AFP

The educational system lacks an integrated, flexible vision, which is evident in an apparent fluctuating educational policy.

Perhaps, crises unravel the actual strength of the educational system, as the COVID-19 crisis unmasked aspects of organizational weaknesses, controlling the system’s performance in pre-school, most important of which are:

  1. The decrease in the budget allocated to education, and therefore there will be no actual evolvement. Although its allocations increased by about EGP15 billion, it did not reach half the minimum stipulated amount in the constitution.

The public spending rate on education is about EGP132 billion in the draft budget for 2019/20, representing 6.10 per cent of total public spending, 74 per cent of which goes to wages and compensation for those working in educational organizations.

  1. Failure to implement the distance learning mechanism properly.
  2. Excessive student overcrowding, weak schools’ absorptive capacity, and the absence of a vision to deal with it.
  3. The widening gap between public and private education.
  4. Low salaries for the work force in the system, especially teachers, is one of the main reasons for its incompetence.
  5. The weakness of the technical education and vocational training system both negatively affect the industry.
  6. Inadequate school health preparations and the decline of the ‘Quality Assurance Authority’s role, despite its importance.

The crisis also revealed the educational institutions’ lack of the technological infrastructure required for digital transformation.

Most importantly, the crisis unveiled the lack of electronic systems to manage the educational process and the lack of digital institutional repositories that allow for the digital and straightforward provision of educational resources.

Also, one of the most important difficulties that stand in the way of reform steps is the tendency to politicize education.

This policy has been followed since the July 1952 revolution and has continued to this day, knowing that a healthy education system must be concerned with building a national personality capable of thinking and criticism, regardless of the ruling regime and its orientation.

Egyptian Education Crisis Influence on Citizens and Society

The education crisis directly affected the lives of citizens and society as a whole.

Education has become a costing burden on families with its current policy and procedures, it has not been able to build the capabilities of scientific and innovative thinking and has not been able to eliminate poverty.

The “Statistics Authority” indicated that education levels are the most closely related factor to the risk of poverty, as poverty indicators decrease as the education level rises.

The percentage of the poor among the illiterate reached 35.6 per cent, compared to 9.4 per cent for university graduates in 2019/20, 15.2 per cent among above-average certificates holders, 17.4 per cent among secondary certificates holders, and 33.1 per cent among basic education certificates holders.

Income and expenditure research indicators for the year 2019/20, by the “Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics,” showed that the average expenditure of the Egyptian family (25.1 million families) on private tuition amounted to 28.3 per cent of the total expenditure of EGP18,549 allocated to spending on education annually.

Consequently, reform plans were not able to eliminate the problem of private tuition since problems of the educational system are still reflected in the Egyptian society as a whole and especially on families that suffer from the exorbitant expenses of education.  All of that has become a staple since quality education has become a merchandise only for the elite and the rich.

Free Education to Paid Education:

In this part, we must address the fundamental reason for the continuation of the education crisis and its origins:

Free education was closely linked to the Nasserite period after the 1952 revolution in Egypt.

One of the first and most important agreements in that period was the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which was signed in 1967 and ratified in 1982.

However, after the 1967 war, the circumstances have changed, so education allocations in the state budget declined in conjunction with the rise in population density and inflation, placing Egypt on the path of dismantling the educational welfare system established by the government.

With the political changes and the beginning of late Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat’s rule, the view of the education system changed as the government began to adopt a pay-to-get policy for services.

This policy views education as a commodity offered in the market, not a guaranteed right to all citizens.

Then came late Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s era in the early 1990s, when the economic reformations started in 1991 with the support of the “Structural Adjustment Program of the IMF,” which was the main gate to the neo-liberal policies that the government followed in formulating its economic policy at the time, as it reduced financial allocations to public services, especially health and education.

Thus, teachers’ salaries have dropped, and educational infrastructure has declined in conjunction with overcrowded classes, which dragged the official public education to the mud.

At the same time, investing in education especially through the private sector came into the picture to compensate not only for the absence of the quality and skills in the public sector, but for fees and expenses, which later became exclusive to capable families.

Because the Egyptian government was unable to raise spending on education, the parliament, in 2016/17, merged the allocations for the cultural affairs sector in Al-Azhar, the support of student contributions and scholarships from the Ministry of Social Solidarity, the allocations of the National Authority for Quality Assurance of Education and the sector’s share of debt service benefits to the education sector budget, to include all these allocations in one budget and without any actual increase in investment in education.

The education system was swept in an endless cycle of problems and crises since the 1967 war, but is there a glimmer of hope to get out of this problem?

What are the opinions of scholars and education experts in Egypt?

Educational Experts Opinions:

Dr Talaat Abdul Hamid, a professor of education at Ain Shams University, believes that the apparent fluctuation of the educational policy is one of the main reasons for the failure of the education system in Egypt.

According to Abdul Hamid, that is linked to the presence of a minister and ends with another one, who would aim to start new plans that would diverge from those that precede the pervious Cabinet he was part of.

There must be actual steps to solve the education problem.

Most important of which is forming a commission as an independent, non-profit body that is not affected by any ministerial reshuffle, to be responsible for setting strategies and policies aimed at the general benefit of students.

He also said that the world is changing rapidly. We must know why we teach and the purpose of education.

Abdul Hamid also stressed the importance of an integrative approach; given that science is based on the unity and integration of knowledge, the student must be trained to link knowledge and make holistic conclusions from partial knowledge, with caution against electronic haste and the danger of this virtual world.

The main objective of education is to build the student’s personality through a natural, lived world represented in activities, role models, information and books. We must not be drawn to everything digital and Western.

He also pointed out that we must learn from China and Japan’s successful experiments.

Dr Mohamed Ghoneim’s study also indicated that the tasks of the pre-university education sector could not be performed by a single individual minister regardless of his ability and experience.

He stressed the need to establish a commission for primary education to be an independent body, with a legal personality affiliated with the president, and is concerned with developing the education from its current form to a more efficient one.

There is already a movement to establish a commission for pre-university education, consisting of a president from outside the executive authority appointed by the president, scholars who are well known in human knowledge and sciences, public figures with interest in public affairs, Chairman of the Education Committee of the Parliament, representatives of Education Ministry, private education, and higher education.

All of the above is dependent on the fact that the commission’s decisions are enforceable and consistent with the constitution and that the ministers implement its rulings and principles, which will amount to a fundamental reform in the educational system in Egypt.

But will those opinions be taken into consideration?

Will the efforts undertaken by the government lead to a solution? Or will the Egyptians have to wait a long time (with or without hope) to solve this problem?

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