Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1404, (2 - 8 August 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Educational reform for Egypt 2030

A holistic approach in response to global dynamics in technology and knowledge is imperative if Egypt is to achieve its development goals, writes Haro L Karkour

 

Central to Egypt’s 2030 vision are four pillars: social justice, innovation and scientific research, economic development, and environment. In all four pillars, the focus is on a future where there is more citizen participation to face new challenges and meet Egypt’s national objectives. There is thus a strong emphasis on “public-private partnership to stimulate innovation”. The latter is especially important. As Mariana Mazzucato, professor in the economics of innovation and public value at University College London, reiterated in her latest work, The Value of Everything, innovation is a public-private collaborative endeavour. Of course, there is a legal aspect to this, which addresses the necessary legal reforms to facilitate private-public partnership. I will leave the comment on this aspect to legal experts and tackle a dimension that is related to my area of expertise: the role of education in Egypt’s 2030 vision.

Education will play the central role in the success of Egypt’s 2030 vision. This is the expert view of Sherif Delawer. In the fourth Egyptian national conference for the youth, for example, Delawer argued that in the present technological revolution — a revolution that will transform health, industry, education, job opportunities and the overall framework of society — retraining is central. As a new social order comes to take shape, training needs to prepare a new worker. Delawer presents a concrete example here: the collaborative economy. Let us look at Airbnb and Uber, he says; why not have Egyptian youth develop such ideas? Develop similar platforms at home, rather than pay a monthly tariff to an outside corporation.
 
This raises the question: Where do we start and how can we develop this idea of preparing the Egyptian youth for the 21st century? The answer starts with the educational system and teachers more specifically. To this end, the Ministry of Education at the moment has an interesting programme for teacher training called “Teachers First”. Its general direction, which focuses on shifting teaching from top-down traditional methods to student learning, interaction and development of skills, is welcome. There are also three areas to consider here though, which will further strengthen the role of education, and particularly the teacher, as an anchor for Egypt’s 2030 vision.

The first area concerns spreading the message of programmes such as “Teachers First”. The programme’s website, for example, is frustratingly vague to those interested in understanding the ministry’s aim. On the programme’s website, readers find the following quote by one teacher: “I was urged to begin planning and reflecting on topics that will help my learners, ones that can be associated with the curriculum. This will help us build characters that are able to head straight into the job market and immediately succeed socially.” This of course offers little detail regarding what a “character” that is “able to head straight into the job market” looks like. Furthermore, little is said about artificial intelligence and lifelong training, which Delawer highlighted as essential to the 21st century job market. As the aim of education is inseparable from the government’s broader objectives, this link needs to be more clearly drawn, both to teachers and society at large.
 
In other words, the training system needs to be integrative: to explain more clearly not only the shift from a culture of teaching to a culture of learning, but also the significance of this shift for what the government currently aims to achieve.

Secondly, the aim of this training should not be limited in terms of scope. Rather, the aim should be to build a new society, literally speaking. As Delawer argued, new technology means that the social and economic order is changing. This means a new citizen is born, a citizen who is more flexible in terms of lifelong training, with the lifelong skills to adapt to the new environment. In this case, a programme such as “Teachers First” that is limited to 10,000 teachers (although with potential to expand in upcoming phases) is not enough. It is not enough because it does not take a holistic approach to social change. For example, once the education system is focused on learning, would not assessment methods also need to change? The assessment methods cannot change for some students and remain the same for others. The training system therefore needs to be holistic: a nationwide system of training needs to complement the nationwide method of assessment based on demonstrating skills.

Thirdly, the use of digital technology in the training system, and educational system more generally, can be developed exponentially to ensure teacher efficiency in attaining the shift from a teaching to a learning culture. The technology that is currently used, Lengo, is a friendly system that helps teacher self-assessment. It is thus limited in its application. Areas that technology could expand into here include student feedback and wider data collection on class attendance, student satisfaction, results, all of which could be useful to assess teacher performance and personalise student feedback specific to each teacher. This system will not only lead to more transparency, but also ensure that teachers receive relevant student feedback to their case and, importantly, that the hardworking and high achieving are rewarded.

Thus, only a cultural shift from teaching to learning can truly develop an innovative society that will increase the likelihood of success in attaining Egypt’s 2030 vision.

“Cultural shift” here means a shift from teaching material to learning skills, from learning submission to learning independence, from being afraid of mistakes to embracing mistakes as part of a creative process. To this end training programmes such as “Teachers First” are welcome, albeit they can be further strengthened in anchoring the four pillars of Egypt’s 2030 vision if their approach is integrative in terms of a clear link to government objectives, holistic in terms of scope and more efficient in terms of their use of digital technology.


The writer holds a PhD in international relations and teaches at the University of Leicester, UK.

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