Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1166, (26 September - 2 October 2013)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1166, (26 September - 2 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

No politics, no fights

Students and teachers are banned from discussing political or religious issues in schools

“Students are not allowed to discuss political or religious issues, either among themselves or with their teachers; this is a forbidden area. Any violation of this rule will be dealt with firmly.” So reads the welcome letter received by students at a language school on 15 September, the first day of the academic year, reports Mohamed Abdel-Baky.

The new school rule was issued following a decree from the Ministry of Education earlier this month.

“We want students to focus on the educational process. The decree is to help create a peaceful environment in which young people can be separated from the state of political polarisation which divides Egyptian society,” said Education Minister Mahmoud Abul-Nasr.

The decree allows teachers who violate its stipulations to be suspended and referred for investigation. It does not, however, specify the measures schools should take against students who do not abide by the new regulations.

“Teachers must remain neutral on political matters and not attempt to influence their students,” said Abul-Nasr.

The decree was has provoked anxiety and frustration among both teachers and students.

“I don’t think it’s necessary. We may already be fed up with politics but we don’t want the government to tell us what we can and cannot say,” says Mohamed Hisham, a pre-IG student.

Hisham adds that like many of his colleagues he supported the 25 January Revolution and its slogan “bread, freedom and social justice”.

“Without freedom of speech the country will not achieve any of the revolution’s goals, and this freedom starts in schools,” he says.

Ali Hani, a junior preparatory school pupil, insists the Ministry of Education must respect the “mentality of Egypt’s children”.

“I don’t think banning us from talking about political issues will end the country’s problems. The Ministry of Education has to respect our mentality. Instead of banning us from expressing our opinions it should teach us how to express them in the right way and how to respect opposing points of view.”

The majority of people in Egypt, argues Hani, do not know how to accept the other’s point of view. It is the job of schools to foster a spirit of tolerance.

Maya Youssef, fourth grade elementary school student, believes it is better to prevent discussion of political issues at schools than risk fights between students.

“Since the 25 January Revolution people keep accusing others of not loving Egypt just because their political views are different,” she complains.

Ministry of Education officials told Al-Ahram Weekly that the decision addresses teachers rather than students.

“Over the last three years some teachers got into the habit of raising their political views with students in an attempt to influence them,” says Shahinaz Al-Dosouki, a senior ministry official.

Since it is impossible to guarantee any teacher’s neutrality when addressing political issues it is better to ban their discussion, she argues. “Teachers have the right to express their views as citizens but there have to be limits on how and when they may do so in school.”

Zeinab Ibrahim, general manager of Nasr City education administration, reveals a number of schools in her area have seen verbal and, in some cases, physical fights between teachers because of politics.

“Teachers who support or oppose Islamist rule have come to blows in the workplace. The ministry has taken the right decision in banning such discussions,” she says.

The decree though, will prove difficult to implement, warns Ibrahim, since uncovering violations will be dependent on teachers or students who have discussed political issues reporting that this has taken place.

Elementary school teacher Manal Badr believes the decree is an attempt to prevent pro-Islamist teachers or students from expressing their opinions. “It is a political decision which aims to reduce the influence of the teachers who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood in public schools, especially in rural areas,” she says.

The Education Ministry may insist it is taking action to banish politics from schools but this did not prevent several public schools from replacing the national anthem during morning assembly with martial songs on the first day of the new academic year. In Ismailia public schools are reported to have received instructions from the Ministry of Education’s local directorate to play a song extolling the army’s intervention to end Mohamed Morsi’s rule. The same song was also played at assembly in government schools in Damietta, Mansoura, Qena, Minya, Beni Sweif, Sohag and Mahalla following the national anthem.

Government schools are obliged to play the national anthem each morning as students line up in front of the Egyptian flag.

In Marsa Matrouh governorate a teacher beat his female colleague when she played a pro-military song on the school speakers during the students’ break.

“Arabic teacher Mohamed Saleh attacked his colleague and beat her as she played a pro-military song. She suffered bruises on different parts of the body and was transferred to hospital,” said the police report.

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