Changes to the education system are the first step to reforming the human mind in the new Egypt and the new Middle East. This is simply to sum up the answer to the question of who the new citizen is and how he can be created.
In the past, ideas in books were sometimes simply memorised, but today things are changing, and discoveries and inventions have been non-stop. The language itself has changed to keep up with the recent technologies and not just in space science.
The English philosopher Bertrand Russell, the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950, once said that it was essential to develop human thought to guarantee the future of humanity. We are now living in the 21st century when Russell’s views are even more essential.
He saw the need to pay attention to technological education, but he hoped that cultural education would also occupy an important part of the curriculum such that people would become global citizens.
Russell said that the interplay of cultural with technical education was a blending of knowledge with wisdom, and that culture could help to prevent narrow-minded tendencies resulting in short-sighted policies.
The ultimate objective of education was to prepare people to be good citizens, he said, underlining the need to teach technology and culture.
In Egypt, the government has announced a new project to teach 20 million pre-university students in line with its 2030 Vision.
Minister of Education Tarek Shawki has spoken of the need to modernise education and the curriculum to keep pace with global developments and to promote digital knowledge to cope with what is happening globally.
He has said that a new education system will be introduced among students at Japanese-run schools in Egypt and that Egyptian teachers will be trained by Japanese personnel.
While there are some 57,000 schools in Egypt, including 49,000 public and 7,000 private ones, the philosophy of the new system will be different in that it will seek to integrate science, mathematics, history, geography and Arabic within a multidisciplinary package in the primary stages, along with English, religion and sports.
English will be taught from kindergarten in all public schools, and up to grade 12 science and mathematics will be taught in English.
Teaching English in the new system will be in parallel to teaching the curriculum as a whole, with scientific and mathematical terms being taught in Arabic and English.
There has been controversy among specialists, parents and teachers about this new educational experiment and how to prepare teachers and schools themselves.
Journalist Abbas Al-Tarabili has said we should give the minister the opportunity to try out his ideas, keeping him in position until results are seen.
He claims that this could be Egypt’s last chance to save its educational system and for Egyptian students to regain their former strengths.
However, Hossam Badrawi, a well-known educational expert, has said that the strategy needs complementary steps to develop a plan for its implementation and its links to various components including the ministry, international donors, the private sector and NGOs.
Development plans need to set specific time periods, clear plans and strict systems for monitoring, evaluation and accountability.
The need to reform Egypt’s schools and the priority of its application mean that we must support the government in its efforts, however. Financing will be a main concern, and this will require the waiving of other priorities and the support of institutions such as the World Bank.
Mohamed Abul-Ghar, a well-known politician, has said that the reforms should be implemented in a limited number of schools first because we do not know if all schools are well prepared.
Is the Internet available and fast enough to download the curriculum? Have teachers been trained in the use of tablets?
Education is a priority for all Egyptian families, regardless of economic level, and all Egyptian families aim to give their children a proper education.
It is thus important to enter into a serious dialogue with the community, as this could uncover defects in government plans, alerting the wider public before the new programme starts.
Are the interests of Egyptian children at risk from the programme? Psychologists have tried to define intelligence as the ability of individuals to understand, invent and engage in the purposeful direction of behaviour.
In other words, intelligence has to do with the overall ability of the individual to act purposefully, to think logically and to deal effectively with the environment.
Linguistic intelligence is the ability to think through words, and logical intelligence has to do with the ability to solve problems. Imagistic intelligence is the ability to imagine things in three dimensions.
Musical intelligence is the ability to understand harmony. Physical intelligence is the ability of the mind to control the body, and environmental intelligence is the ability to combine work or study with pleasure.
A friend of mine asked me recently what I thought we lacked the most. Awareness, I answered.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 June 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly with headline: Education as a stepping stone