Friday,20 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013
Friday,20 July, 2018
Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

Year of change

The school system is subject to yet more tinkering. But to what end, asks Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly


Each new government that arrives insists that improving the education system is among its top priorities. It then proceeds to tinker with the system it has inherited, confusing parents, children and teachers in the process while doing little, if anything, to improve standards that are generally acknowledged to be woeful.

The current government is no exception. Last week Minister of Education Ibrahim Ghoneim issued a ministerial decree annulling the certificate of grade six which ends the primary education stage.

According to the ministerial decree, grade six will henceforth be considered an ordinary transition year. The move is being presented as part of the Education Ministry’s efforts to reform primary education.

“Article 18 of Law 139 does not stipulate that completion of year six of primary education be marked by the award of a certificate. Instead it should be considered a normal school year,” said Ghoneim. Doing so, he pointed out, would reduce the demand for private lessons, relieving parents of an onerousfinancial burden.

“The decree will save at least LE400 million, money which would otherwise go on private lessons and pay for exam monitors and teachers who grade the exams,” argues Ghoneim.

Currently Egypt’s education system comprises six years of primary education followed by three years of preparatory school and three years of secondary school. Legally children are not allowed to work before completing their the preparatory stage, equivalent to year nine.

“The decree will decrease drop-out rates,” says Ghoneim.

Students will still need to obtain a certificate after year nine to move on to secondary education.

This year’s education budget, says Ghoneim, has been increased from LE49 billion to LE62 billion. The minister also hailed the opening of 26 new schools next year in Cairo and Kafr Al-Sheikh governorates, 40 schools in Giza and extensions to 165 existing schools nationwide. 

“Every year thousands of families turn their homes into military boot camps because of the final exams for primary and secondary school certificates,” says head teacher Zeinab Ibrahim. “They feel obliged to pay a fortune for private lessons.”

Cancelling the primary certificate, she points out, is tantamount to merging the primary and preparatory stages. And this, says Ibrahim, means education officials must use the summer holiday to review the curriculum and improve the quality of course books. “The decision will free up the cost of conducting annual exams nationally. The money should be used to develop the curricula, student and teacher skills,” she argues.

Mohamed Zahran, a member of the Teachers Rights Front, worries that the changes will bring administrative problems in its wake, not least the transfer of teachers from secondary to primary stages and vice versa. “Teachers should have received the necessary retraining before the decree is enforced. They need to be provided with details of how to assess students,” he says.

“It is dangerous to depend on regular monthly exams and final tests to determine whether a student moves on to the next level. There is a very real possibility that students will regress, especially on a linguistic level.”

In 2003 a ministerial decree allocated sixth grade to the primary stage. Before then fifth grade had been the big year of primary school life, concluding with examinations to ascertain whether students would move on to preparatory or not.

Private school teacher Gihan Ahmed is concerned that according to the new decree students from grades one to six will have 20 per cent of their results based on conduct and participation inside the classroom. The result, warns Ahmed, is that teachers will press pupils to sign up for expensive private lessons, using their discretionary 20 per cent assessment as a pressure card. “Students who are well-behaved and participate in class might not get the marks they deserve because they are not taking private lessons with the teacher while other, less talented students could secure better grades because they are,” says Ahmed.

Sixth primary was first annulled, for financial reasons, in 1988 by then Minister of Education Fathi Sorour. At that time the education budget was believed to be inadequate to provide the classrooms and teachers necessary for six years of primary schooling. A decade later the education budget increased and suddenly reports appeared confirming that skipping the final primary year had left many students ill-prepared for the preparatory stage.

Mohamed Kotri, whose two young children attend primary school, “cannot figure out why each new education minister comes to power determined to make immediate changes”.

First they cancel sixth grade then they decided to bring it back. Then they cancel the sixth grade certificate. What do they plan to change next? I am worried about my children,” says Kotri.

Asked why parents seem automatically opposed to the extra year, Ahmed replies that too many have lost faith in the system. “People don’t want to feel that the ministry is confused or taking haphazard decisions. Yet the regular changes made by successive ministers give this impression.”



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