Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1227, (1-7 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

New ideas for education

What are the best ideas for developing education in Egypt, asks Mai Samih

New ideas for education
New ideas for education
Al-Ahram Weekly

“Founding councils like the Specialised Council for Education and Scientific Research gives people hope for the future. It has always been a public demand that the president should have advisors in this particular field, since there are many challenges facing education, including maintaining a balance between quantity and quality, financing education and pricing educational services, a lack of balance between specialties and the needs of society, the lack of adaptation of education to technological and scientific developments, and standards for training teachers,” said Amr Salama, an education consultant and American University in Cairo (AUC) counsellor, at a panel discussion at AUC on Egypt’s Education Crisis in November.

The panel aimed at discussing the challenges facing education in schools and universities and scientific research in Egypt.  

It was composed of five of the eleven members of the country’s Specialised Council for Education and Scientific Research, which is affiliated to the presidency. They included the Dean of the AUC School of Sciences and Engineering and Head of the Council Tarek Shawki, the President of the National Research Centre Ashraf Shaalan, a professor of mechanical engineering at AUC Amal Essawi, a professor of practice in the Graduate School of Education and Director of the Middle East Institute for Higher Education at AUC Malak Zaalouk, and the pedagogy and assessment officer in the Centre of Learning and Teaching at AUC Joyce Rafla.

The event took place at the AUC Tahrir Campus in Ewart Memorial Hall and was moderated by Hafez Al-Mirazi, director of the Kamal Adham Centre for Television and Digital Journalism and professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications. Lisa Anderson, the president of AUC, opened the conference.

In his presentation, Shawki said that amending the current regulations governing education in Egypt was an option that was better than creating new ones. “We have been working for a month-and-a-half now, and we only report to the president. We are putting down a long-term strategy for the next 15-20 years, though there are also short-term goals, including setting a legal framework and redistributing resources,” he said.

For example, there should be a re-evaluation of which students deserve government financial support at the public universities, he added. “In order for a student to get a full scholarship to study at a public university, he has to succeed in his studies to ensure justice for the other hard-working students. If a student fails for a certain number of years, then he will have to start paying a percentage for his college education and the money pumped back into the universities.”

“Our job is to develop the educational process, given the president’s desire to spilt the planning function from the executive function in the educational authorities. We are working on doing this, as currently education in Egypt is supervised by many ministries, such as the ministry of education, the ministry of higher education, and the ministry of communication,” Shawki commented.

“According to international reports, Egypt is in the last rank of the field of scientific research and education. We have 18.5 million students in the basic education stage. We have 45,000 schools and we need to build about 40,000 more,” he added. In order to solve such problems, there should be a restoration of core values in Egyptians themselves, he argued, which could be done through religious and media dialogue.

For her part, Joyce Rafla had conducted research on the strategies for improving education in Egypt from the reign of Mohamed Ali onwards, he said. “In addition to this, the president plans to found an institute for strategic planning. UNESCO has called on countries to spend 10 per cent of their national income on education, so the four per cent we spend in Egypt is not enough. However, with some partnerships and by changes in policy we could manage with this,” Shawki said.

The council is responsible for studying research techniques and recommending courses of action on educational matters, providing practical and creative solutions to Egypt’s problems in education and scientific research, in addition to coordinating and creating synergies between the country’s various ministries and institutions on education and research.

Zaalouk explained that Egypt had spent a lot of money on training teachers over the years, but that more attention was still needed, “One of our priorities is sustainable development. We are betting on the Egyptian educator, and our plan is to help that educator’s advancement and development. Focusing on the teacher is a strategic investment,” she said, stressing that policies that encouraged decentralisation were also needed to allow for the financial independence of schools in the governorates.  

“There is no such thing as an educational system that is beyond the standards of its teachers; teaching in general is a very difficult job as it takes a lot of knowledge and the ability to deal with others. Unfortunately, teachers do not get their due attention, and for a teacher to excel in work he needs good working conditions. With these, he will succeed, but this can only happen through on-going development,” she added.

 “We have access to all the research in the world via the Internet, making our research that much easier. Doctoral training centres abroad in which students are trained in research and how to transform an idea into a product can help. In general, education must use research so that teaching and syllabi are developed. We have 120,000 graduates from the College of Education in Egypt each year, and these are available to us. We are also looking into the idea of asking the owners of private schools to support government schools so that prosperity can prevail,” Zaalouk said.

Shaalan said that scientific research had been neglected in the past. “In 2005, a conference was organised on scientific research that identified needs, but nothing was done. In 2008, a presidential decree was issued to establish a council for scientific research that was to be composed of Egyptian and foreign scientists, but nothing was carried out. In the same year a fund for developing scientific research was established with the same result,” Shaalan stated.

“Yet, we need a strategy to develop scientific research that divides roles and decreases costs. The current laws should be amended to help develop scientific research. There should be social dialogue that is open to new ideas. Although the country’s spending on scientific research increased from 0.3 per cent to one per cent of GDP in the 2013 constitution, we still need to push that percentage higher. We also need to create specialised research centres to benefit the economy and industry,” he argued.

Student problems: Some of the biggest problems faced by students, according to parents, have been overcrowded classes making it difficult for students to acquire knowledge in class.

Some private schools have increased their fees by 35 per cent, and parents have complained of expensive health services at school, especially after the outbreak of swine flu which forced the then minister of education, Yousri Al-Gamal, to postpone the beginning of the academic year to 3 October. He also decreased the number of students in each class to 40 as well as distributed the number of students in each class to different sessions throughout the week so that each class studied for three days.

In addition to this, there have been maintenance problems in schools despite the increase in the amount of money spent on education from the national income from LE33.8 billion to LE39.6 billion, according to government figures. In 2009, the minister decided to apply a general evaluation system to the primary and the first and second preparatory stages. The system included decreasing the time of lessons to 70 minutes instead of 90 and giving 50 per cent of the students’ grade to continuous assessment. However, this system was criticised because students could be at the “mercy of the teachers” who could in some cases then take advantage of this to force them to take private lessons, it was felt.

It has also been felt that there is little time left for studying after a student finishes the activities required of him, causing some parents to do activities for their children or buy readymade charts. Some schools have no libraries, making it impossible for a student to get all the marks in the reading section of the achievement report. As a result of the reforms, it has been argued that sessions were too short and the number of students too big, making it difficult for a teacher to monitor them properly.  

There has also been the problem of children, especially girls, dropping out of school.  According to official statistics, up to 23 million people in Egypt are illiterate, and 70 per cent of them are girls. According to the UNDP Egypt Human Development Report for 2010, 16 per cent of females between the ages of 18 to 19 did not go to school at all. According to UNESCO statistics, 65 million girls across the world are out of school, meaning that globally one in five girls of lower secondary school age are out of school.

In most poor countries the primary school completion rates of girls are below 50 per cent. According to statistics issued by the Ministry of Education, in Egypt the total number of students who dropped out in primary stage in 2010 to 2011was 28,841, with the percentage of girls dropping out being 3.1 compared to 2.8 for boys. The illiteracy rate is 28 per cent for the 15 to 35 age group and about 80 per cent of them are women.  

According to a study by Nahed Ramzy of the National Centre for Social and Criminal Studies, students often depend on private lessons, which threatens the educational process as well as their abilities to compete in the work environment. In addition, many syllabi are not up to standards around the world, and teachers are not getting their dues to enable them to live and work properly. No universities were built in the governorates in the last 30 years, but only branches that were turned into universities, according to experts.

According to a paper by Ahmed Al-Geyoushi, a researcher, an average class should have 20 students, but this is not the case in Egyptian classrooms. According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, there were some nine million students in the primary stage in 2010 with about 200,000 classes to teach them in, giving an average of 45 or more students per class. But what is needed is 300,000 more classes, meaning 30 per cent more schools. The number of teachers needed for primary schools alone is 450,000, up from the current 200,000 now.   

In September, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced during the Egyptian Science Festival that a competition would be held to appoint 30,000 new assistant teachers. He also announced that Egypt needed 10,000 more schools and 1,150 schools had been built during the last year.

Solutions in sight: Mohamed Fahmi, manager of the General Educational Buildings Corporation, lists the problems faced and the solutions underway.

“The biggest problem we have is that four years ago the money the Corporation used to get was given to others, which caused a lot of the maintenance problems that have been occurring in schools. Now the prime minister has decided to refund these financial rights, however. In the past there was also one contractor in charge of maintenance, but a few years ago this was stopped and unspecialised staff took charge. Now the old contractor system will be implemented again. This year, we have built 1,000 schools. But we need 10,000 more to solve the problems of the distant governorates,” he said.

Essawi said action should be taken to bridge the gap between scientific research and industry in Egypt. “70 per cent of our researchers work in universities, and we have to realise their potential and provide them with resources. We will be working on bridging the gap between both sides and removing the administrative obstacles that hinder their cooperation. Scientific research has to be tied to the priorities of development and an independent body should be created to assess the impact of research. We must know where every penny spent is going. We need to make sure that this is met with development.”

 “There is also the red tape problem: whenever someone comes up with good research or a good idea, red tape slows him down. But when a country like China comes up with the same idea it becomes more advanced. There are many scientific research centres in many ministries, but not everyone can use them correctly and there is a lot of overlapping. There are few students who know how to choose good research ideas. What is needed is to teach them how to choose their subjects properly so that the number of qualified scientists will increase,” Essawi said.

Rafla, the youngest member on the Council, explained that there was hope for the educational system. “Before seeing it for myself first hand, I felt that there was no hope for the educational system, but I realised after working with teachers that there was so much unutilised potential in Egypt. Through providing professional development to teachers, we can ensure that education provides opportunities to students, allowing them a choice in their education,” she said.

In the 3rd year preparatory level a student determines his destiny and whether he is going to continue to the thanaweya amma (general secondary certificate) or to technical education. “If a student is given a chance to study what he wants depending on his abilities and his desires, then this will increase the ability and productivity of the country as a whole,” Rafla commented.

Shawki said that the council intended to open a portal to the public to receive ideas and opinions in the near future. “There are no quick fixes for education in Egypt, but there is the will, hope and commitment from the members of the council to provide a vision for Egypt’s future,” he said. “We are considering the idea of a scholarship system and a certification system that would allow more in-service training to teachers, among other things, for example.”

“We need to access previous attempts to solve such problems and try to make use of the positive sides instead of starting from ground zero,” commented Salama.

Shaalan put research needs in a nutshell when he said that “we need to implement an Egyptian model of scientific research, and we need to build a research centre for each governorate that would be famous for a certain industry. For example, Damietta is famous for its wood products, so there should be a research centre there to develop them. The same goes for Al-Mahala Al-Kobra, which is famous for textiles. We need to imitate some of the features of a successful industrial country, but not to blindly copy them,” he said .

add comment

  • follow us on