Education Reform One Year at a Time
The education system in Egypt is a “complicated story,” the Minister of Education, Tarek Shawki, began his speech at AmCham’s Annual General Meeting and Iftar event, held on the May 29th at the Four Seasons Cairo Hotel at Nile Plaza. “But it is a very exciting story,” he continued, “because I think we have reached a point of no return and we have a strong political will to reform the system.”
The current reform plan has been in place since the end of 2014. “What we are working on right now has been thoroughly discussed and developed over the past few years,” said Shawki.
The current guidelines to improve education are based on the constitution, which prioritize the need to “build the character” of Egyptian children, develop their scientific and critical thinking skills, enhance their values, instill a feeling of citizenship and develop tolerance. “All this needs to be benchmarked against international standards,” he stressed. Furthermore, the constitution decrees that schools and universities need to offer courses in vocational training, religion, history, Arabic, human rights, literacy, math, ethics, and values, explained Shawki highlighting the lack of some of these aspects in the current curriculum. “Our plan is to meet these constitutional needs by 2030,” he said adding that the ministry began by training 17,000 teachers to be “our ambassadors of change.”
Shawki further explained that the ministry launched the Egyptian Knowledge Bank, a website that compiles research and articles from around the world and offers them for free. “Our aim from this plan is to rebuild the Egyptian citizen,” said the minister. “We are not doing this alone, the entire government and nation, are our partners,” he adds. However, creating a strong online knowledge platform and having skilled teachers will not be enough, as facilities must be updated to help deliver the needed change. This will be a tough challenge, given that Egypt has 50,000 schools, 86 percent of which are government owned, 12 percent are privately owned national schools, 1 percent are state-owned language schools, and the remainder are private schools offering international education certifications. “The schools getting the worst service are government schools,” Shawki said. “Meanwhile, the most attractive education institutions for locals are the fewest: international schools.”
These problems have been present for decades, yet are not well defined. A case in point is the 45-student average in government classrooms. “Anyone would think this is a national problem, while in fact it is a highly localized problem,” explained Shawki adding that while there are nearly 100 students in classrooms in population centers, there are 15 students per classroom in remote areas. “The solution to this problem will focus on crowded locations only, not the entire country,” he stressed. “We have 500,000 to 700,000 kids entering schools every year. We currently can’t provide all of them with classrooms, seats, tables, and teachers.”
To have an impact, the minister has started by overhauling the system for children under six years old and then moving year-by-year with them with an all-new education system. “The approach is to abandon the old system a year at a time.” Next academic year the new system will apply to 2.5 million students in KG1, KG2, and primary one. Meanwhile, for those entering the national high school system, Shawki is changing it to resemble the grade-point-average approach, where work throughout the year is an essential component of the final grade.
The last component of the ministry’s plan is to help parents understand how this new system works so they can act as a second driving force to push their children to accept it and excel. “To reform the education system,” he explains, “we must change the cultural notion that school is where you spend 12 years rushing year to year to reach university, and [no need to learn] anything in the process.”