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Sep 30, 2010

The Chronic Dilemma of Egypt’s Educational System

In Egypt, it is becoming a yearly phenomenon that the Ministry of Education fails to deliver books on time for students. The lack of books, among other things, has been a problem for the last 25 years, despite parent protests each year against this problem and also against teacher in competency. Many students cannot move from one grade to the next without private tutoring because of this. Accountability in the lower educational system is absent, despite the denials of the Ministry of Education.

It has been reported by ahram (9/21/10) that 66% of school children in Egypt have private tutoring. The survey of the Social Research Center in Egypt revealed that 39% of families who provide private tutoring for their children spend more than half the family’s income and 22.6% of families spend one-third of their income on the tutoring. 18.1% spend one-fourth of their income on tutoring. Furthermore, parents are experiencing an increase in the cost of private tutoring. The cost depends on the subject matter. Science and math cost more than other subjects. Also, the price per sixty-minute session depends on the residential area where the student lives. According to almasry-alyoum (9/24/10) the cost of private tutoring in math and sciences has reached between 50 and 60 Egyptian pounds per hour. In lower income residential areas, the prices are relatively lower, between 25 and 30 Egyptian pounds. If a family has two children attending school, the economic impact on this family would be very difficult to cope with, especially w hen nearly 44% of families in Egypt are living below the poverty index level, according to U.N reports. It seems to me that the public officials, especially teachers, have lost their morals, ethics and sense of responsibility. The progress of any society depends on the quality of education and the scientific research accomplished. During the past 25 years, government officials have ignored education, and that is why the illiteracy rates in Egypt are among the highest, at nearly one-third of the population. Furthermore, the government education budget is only 4.2% of the GDP according to the Egyptian census of 2006. This is a very low allocation and will not be effective in dealing with the massive problems in the Egyptian educational system. During the early 1960s, Egypt was ahead of South Korea in many ways. Due to the implementation of democracy in South Korea at the time, public officials allocated 20% of the government budget to education and scientific research for twenty years. The commitment of the South Korean government to educational reforms has paid off. The tragedy is that what happens to the Egyptian educational system is the opposite of what South Korea’s government has accomplished. Corruption and the absence of accountability are costing the Egyptian public a high price.

Recently, Farouk Gowaida wrote an excellent article on the negative turn of events in the Egyptian educational system since the late 1960s (www.shorouknews.com, 9/27/10). Professor Gowaida noted that the Egyptian educational system at the time was among the best. Schools were clean and the quality of education was high. Egyptian universities' standards were well recognized. That was the prevailing status of Egypt's educational system at the time. Things have changed substantially since then. The Egyptian teacher is no longer viewed as a model teacher. Instead, he or she is viewed as part of the Egyptian financial market. Even the educational requirements reflect a lack of understanding of the changes that have been taking place in the advanced world. Many students are graduating without the knowledge and skills required for employment.

Among other things, the poor quality of the educational system has enhanced the growth of foreign schools that cost parents a high price in tuition. The tuition of some of these schools exceeds 100,000 Egyptian pounds per year. Equate this to the yearly salary of the average factory worker, which fluctuates between 4,000 and 5,000 Egyptian pounds per year.

According to the professor, there are around 57 foreign high schools in Egypt. 32 schools are American, 11 are British, 9 are French, 3 are Canadian, and 2 are German. He continued to say that these schools look like islands, totally separate from Egyptian society. Despite the fact that the Egyptian educational system requires foreign schools to operate according to the Egyptian law, these laws are ignored by the foreign schools. Foreign languages are the main language in many of these schools. Arabic language and Egyptian history and culture are not part of their curriculum.

This is a very dangerous phenomenon in terms of its long-term impact on Egyptian students who are enrolled in these schools. What will the impact of such an educational situation be on future Egyptian generations and society at large?

These schools provide education for some of the children of non-Egyptian nationals who will leave Egyptian to go back where they came form. It is the responsibility of the Egyptian Ministry of Education to hold foreign schools to the same standards required in public schools. Egyptian students should be required to learn Arabic language and be educated on the history and culture of their own society.

Based on my own observations as a frequent academic visitor to Egypt, the changes that have been taking place during the past 4 decades have been moving in the wrong direction. This is reflected in all walks of life and not just in education. Such misdirection is also attributed to the lack of transparency and accountability due to the absence of democratic institutions in Egyptian society. This has led to the widely prevailing corruption in Egyptian society.

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