Al-Ahram Weekly Online   14 - 20 June 2012
Issue No. 1102
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Less of an ordeal

Thanaweya amma students began their exams amid a relatively calmer atmosphere than last year, reports Reem Leila

This year's thanaweya amma, or secondary school certificate exams whose results determine which university and which college a student enters, is being taken in relative stability when compared to last year's security situation. Around 440,000 students sat for their exams on 9 June. The Ministry of Education distributed the students among 1,475 examination centres all over the country's governorates. It prepared 906 rest houses for exam supervisors at a cost of LE12 million. The exams will last until 4 July.

Not all has been rosy though. Answers of the English language exam were leaked on Twitter. In a press release on 11 June the Ministry of Education announced that a special committee will be formed to examine the answers of students. According to Mahmoud Nada, general director of exams, students whose answers were identical to that published on Twitter "will fail. Accordingly, the students who cheated will have to re-sit the exam in August," Nada said.

This is not the first incident of exam answers being leaked. Two years ago, a similar incident took place in the governorate of Minya, where a teacher leaked the exams for students. The Education Ministry at the time had students re-take the exam. The teacher was suspended.

According to Nada, three of the ministry's security officers along with police officers will these days be safeguarding sites where students are taking their exams. "When necessary, ministry officials can ask for the help of the Armed Forces by dialing up their hotline," Nada said. The ministry, according to Nada, has taken its own steps, equipping 17 centres with fans and refrigerators in order to create a comfortable atmosphere for teachers while marking exams.

Exam papers will be guarded by police and Armed Forces personnel. The papers will be enveloped and sealed. "A committee comprising three members will be responsible for opening examination papers to be distributed among students," Nada said.

On the first day of the tests, students sat for the Arabic language exam which many previously complained about its length. However, students along with their parents and ministry officials confirmed that the Arabic exam was not too tough, but others complained about the grammar. Ayman Ragab, an Arabic teacher, believed that while the exam was long with many complex questions, none of the questions were out of the curriculum or schoolbook. "Average and above-average students will pass such an exam easily, while below average students might fail or pass with low grades," Ragab said.

Many believe that Egypt's education system is a mirror of our society. Every problem in society is reflected in the country's educational system. So if the government is capable of fixing education problems -- especially that of thanaweya amma, then it means that it will able to solve Egypt's other social, cultural and political problems.

People still consider educational reform and the thanaweya amma a lost cause. Every year the government vows to revamp the educational system especially the horrifying thanaweya amma and yet nothing actually happens; on the contrary the situation gets worse.

But this year, parliament passed a law changing the thanaweya amma system from the current two-year course to a one-year syllabus. Students who fail the first year will have the right to choose whether to re-sit for the exam according to the current system -- two years -- or according to the new system, one year. "There will be no difference in the current curriculums under the new system except in advanced scientific courses; the only aim is to reduce the financial burden on families," Nada said.

Some teachers who are against private lessons believe that the new system will further augment the industry of thanaweya amma private lessons, considered one of the most rewarding businesses in the country, whereas parents deem they are financially challenging experiences.

Around the schools in which the finals are being held, some parents gripped the school gates, praying for their students. Some shared stories of how they sold their valuables just to get their children through the thanaweya amma dilemma.

Several students complained about the whole curriculum and the difficulty of the exams. In a tour conducted by Al-Ahram Weekly among some schools, many students were crying and some parents actually fainted. "This year's exams are difficult and extremely long," student Ali Afifi lamented. Some students said the exam was unsolvable, especially the grammar and rhetoric.

In its usual and repetitive response, the Ministry of Education announced that the questions on the exam were in accordance with all related standards. Reda Mosaad, deputy to the minister of education, said, "for the first time in the ministry's history, answers to all the questions have been distributed among reporters in a press conference showing where the answer to each question is in the schoolbook," Mosaad said.

In a press release issued by the Education Ministry, officials stated that a specialised committee formed by the ministry said average students could answer 75 per cent of the questions, above average students could solve 90 per cent and only distinguished students will be able to answer all of the questions correctly.

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