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Oct 31, 2009

Decline of the Educational System in the Arab World -Egypt

Illiteracy in the Arab World exceeds one third of its population, and statistics on illiteracy vary from country to country in the region.

In a previous post (10/24/09), I have referred to the poor quality of education in the Arab world, in both higher academic institutions as well the lower levels. The Economist (10/17/09) referred to a comparative study conducted on the educational system in the Arab World. The study "Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, TIMSS," is issued every four years. The latest issue, 2007, states that "out of 48 countries tested all 12 participating Arab countries fell below the average. More disturbing, less than 1% of students aged 12-13 in ten Arab countries reached an advanced benchmark in science, compared with 32% in Singapore and 10% in the U.S., only Jordan scored above the average."

In Egypt, which used to carry the torch of education in the Arab World, the situation is deteriorating at a rapid rate.

The poor performance of students, especially in math and sciences, is attributed to several factors:

1. population growth is a big challenge to the Egyptian government. There are not enough schools build to meet the increasing number of students. Classes are over-crowded, which hinders the learning process.
2. government budget allocated for schools to meet their basic needs, is relatively small.
3. teachers are not properly trained. Hence, the quality of teaching is poor, a situation that is of concern to many parents. The number of private tutoring is on the increase, and only parents with certain means can afford to hire private tutors.
4. large number of schools are physically and structurally unfit to be used. Some structures are endangering the life of students due to their very poor conditions. Recently, it has been noticed in the Egyptian media that some schools do not have proper facilities to be used by students.

A quick survey of an Egyptian newspaper reflects the intensity of the problem. The followings are some specific points highlighting the decaying conditions of some schools:

1. In 1999 the Egyptian Governor of Buhayra ordered the partial demolition of EDCO (Secondary Agricultural School) for safety reasons. The school used to provide 25 class rooms serving 400 students. After the demolition 6 class rooms were left. Most of the classes are held in the open and chemical labs are unavailable for students. The Governor maintained that he has, since 1999, requested the Ministry of Education to rebuild what was demolished. His requests were never taken into consideration (Al Masry Al Yom,10/30/09)!
2. There are 450 students who are attending school in a barn due to the lack of facilities ( Al Masry Al Yom, 10/12/09)!
3. In Daqahliya, a condemned school liable to collapse, is attended by 770 students ( Al masry Al Yom, 10/31/09). According to this report, the Ministry of Education, for the past ten years, has turned down requests to build a new school!
4.In Al Muhandiseen, a middle class residential area in Cairo, garbage piles are blocking the entrance to an elementary school ( Al Masry Al Yom, 10/14/09)!
5. In the governorate of Ismailiyah, water services were cut off in Sarabiyum school because water bills were not paid (10/19/09)!
6. In Port-Said, 120 students are attending schools in shacks and use the street corners as their public facilities (Al Masry Al Yom 10/22/09)!
7. Garbage piles are surrounding Khalid Ibn al Walid school in Cairo, and students have to close windows to avoid foul smells( Al Masry Al Yom, 10,19/09)!

The above are only few examples listed in one newspaper in less than a month. The Ministry of Education in Egypt is failing on two accounts: to secure the safety of students in many schools, and to maintain a successful system of education. The results of bureaucratic obstacles are reflected in the high rates of students drop-out, and the rising rate of illiteracy. A large number of students graduate from schools with poor education in math, sciences and even the basic knowledge of standard Arabic.

It is a fact, that in any society the education of the younger generation is the most important investment for future development. Hence, it is of the utmost importance for the Egyptian government, specially the Ministry of Education, to seriously re-evaluate its educational programs. Will it be able to face such an important challenge?

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