Saturday,25 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)
Saturday,25 November, 2017
Issue 1360, (14 - 20 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Education revamp

The minister of education announces the final plan for revamping the country’s education system, reports Reem Leila

 

Education revamp
Education revamp

Minister of Education Tarek Shawki has announced the new features of Egypt’s education system following directives by the country’s political leadership that the country’s education be revamped.

A new plan was submitted to parliament’s Education Committee for debate before it can be approved.

The ministry aims to start the new system by October 2018 when there are two million students. It includes changing the Thanaweya Amma, or 12th grade, system which in turn requires the Supreme Council of Universities to change admission requirements for each school. At a press conference at the Teachers Syndicate on 9 September Shawki stated the vision which the ministry is trying to adopt regarding Thanaweya Amma and the whole of secondary stage education is difficult to be based upon the current education system.

“The new system will include a new evaluation mechanism for students throughout the three years of secondary stage. It is divided in two parts — student projects in school during the academic year. The second is based on booklet exams,” Shawki said.

Thanaweya Amma is the third and final year of high school which qualifies students for colleges. Grades are concentrated on final exams, making their total score the only determinant for their admission in colleges which set the minimum required scores without any admission tests or personal interviews.

The format requires predominantly memorisation rather than comprehension of the curriculum which has created a huge informal sector of private lessons taught by school teachers who often purposefully neglect their role in class in order to push students to take such lessons.

The booklet format contains only MCQs and short-answer questions to be answered in one exam sheet, unlike the older format comprising an answer sheet in addition to the question sheet.

“Within 10 months we will create a miracle by adopting the new curricula. Fifty per cent of the curricula will focus on building students’ personality and 30 per cent will focus on studying,” the minister said.

According to Shawki, teachers of Thanaweya Amma would receive different training from those in primary and middle schools. What’s more, contracts and administrative affairs of teachers would be rewritten to improve their living and professional standards.

Egypt’s education sector is the focus of much attention. Its public education system is the largest in terms of student populations in the Middle East and North Africa yet its levels of public spending have only seen nominal increases in the last five years.

Head of the General Education Sector Reda Hegazi revealed the government’s current plan includes working to integrate modern technology into the education system, adding that Internet speed and the number of computers have increased at state-run schools.

“The country’s strategic plan includes improving the learning environment through training programmes for professors and teachers, and new, active learning techniques to help students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills,” Hegazi said.

According to Shawki, all concerned officials at the ministry are working according to a certain vision aiming at enabling education for everyone without discrimination by 2020-2030, “so that education would contribute in the construction and integration of future generations within society”, Shawki said.

The new system will link the secondary school curricula with the Egyptian Knowledge Bank, an electronic educational research encyclopaedia. It also eliminates the division of high school into two major sections, science and literature, that students have had to choose from.

Students will be able to take a wider variety of courses, and their grades in those courses will determine which universities they can enrol in. Universities, however, will have a lot of freedom to determine their selection criteria, which could include grades, exams or even an interview.

The ministry announced that the first year which students will graduate according to the new system will be in 2020. He said the name of the Thanaweya Amma certificate will be changed, its new name to be decided later. The certificate will be valid for university admission for five years.

The ministry is also working on preserving its financial resources by shifting into a digital format of the curriculum saving the costs of printing books which reach LE2 billion per year. In addition, children of martyrs or officers injured while on duty would be exempted from tuition fees in public schools.

The new plan has created controversy among education experts. “It will exhaust students and their families with the costs of private tutoring for three years instead of a single year,” said Mohamed Kamal, a professor at Kafr Al-Sheikh University. Kamal does not believe the new system will succeed.

“There are half a million high school students in Egypt, many of whom do not have the ability to use the Internet and search the Knowledge Bank,” Kamal said. He said the proportion of Egyptians who own smart phones and tablets is under 25 per cent while many homes do not even have electricity.

Abdel-Hafiz Tayel, director of the Egyptian Centre for the Right to Education, an Egyptian human rights organisation that works in support of equal access to education, agrees with Kamal that the new system will not work. With certificates only valid for five years, he says, students could get stuck waiting to be admitted according to the criteria set by each university department, and many students will never get in.

“The new system will reduce the high numbers of students at universities, but it may cause many low-income people to drop out, namely those who will not be able to wait for a long time and would like to have any opportunity to work and earn a living,” Tayel said.

Still, others believe that the new decision represents an important shift. “The current education system is based on memorisation, and a two-hour final exam determines the students’ academic and professional future. This has to change,” said Kamal Mougheeth, an education expert and researcher at the National Centre for Educational Research and Development, a public organisation.

Mougheeth believes that additional changes are needed to support the new decision. “The teacher plays a big role in the educational process,” he said, “and there must be guarantees for their training and development, as well as improving their living conditions and increasing their salaries, to effectively eliminate private tutoring.”

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