One question posed by the Covid-19 crisis is whether our education system after the pandemic will be as it is today. This is a global question, and it is a necessary one in Egypt.
It seems that the future will see technology being further introduced as a necessary component of education. The question is how this will happen in the best interests of both the education system and the entire society.
Hence, there is a need for frankness about what has happened over recent years in the field of educational technology, because without this frankness there could be further false remedies that the future would be right not to tolerate.
The use of tablets in education has encountered various stumbling blocks in the current crisis and before it. This is not because of defects in this technological product, however. It has been because the use of tablets has not been associated with changes in the content of education and the conditions under which study takes place for both teachers and learners. There have been few feasibility studies on the introduction of this technology and the goals of doing so.
In other words, we have merely replaced books with screens. Nothing has changed in the curriculum, whereas the reality is that we need to modernise and develop the intellectual, philosophical, scientific presuppositions of education in Egypt as well as the infrastructure that governs learning itself.
The curriculum, which is the nerve of any real change in the structure of education, has not seen anything new in decades or in the years since tablets were introduced into the education system. At its worst, the entry of tablets has meant students being tested on them for two hours a day for a week twice a year and then their being put back into storage.
The present coronavirus crisis has revealed the importance of technology and distance education, and the use of tablets is part of the introduction of technology into education linked to the Internet. They do not fit well into pre-university education in a country where the poverty rate is very high at some 32 per cent of the population, and the state does not have the means to introduce tablets to all students at the secondary stage, where technical students have not received them.
But the present situation has imposed a set of changes that mean we must adapt. The whole world is in a state of emergency because of the spread of the coronavirus. Schools and places of gathering such as cafes, restaurants, airports, some public institutions, mosques and others have closed in order to try to limit the spread of the virus, and states have isolated and treated infected cases with a view to avoiding the transmission of infection.
While aiming to protect the lives of their citizens, countries are also searching for ways to avoid the state of paralysis that may take hold as a result of the need to fight the spread of the virus. The education sector in many countries has been part of this search by launching electronic platforms to carry on lessons remotely in an attempt to complete the school year despite the present crisis.
In Egypt, this can be an opportunity for us to correct our use of educational technology. Egypt has a comparative advantage in that 35 per cent of its population is made up of children and young adults, and this can be a powerful force when mobilised to bring about a good education for all.
Should we take advantage of it, we will have the opportunity to achieve development and self-reliance, but in order to do so there is no alternative to modernising and upgrading our education system in the light of the 2030 Strategy and opening a dialogue with specialists who can contribute to a national council of scientists and thinkers.
Owing to the use of technology, education has been one of the least interrupted fields during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Educational institutions have rushed to e-learning and distance learning in order for the wheels of the education system to continue to turn, even if there has been some controversy over e-learning among teachers and students, with some being ill-prepared or not knowing how to use it.
Some teachers believe that the use of technology in education is a guarantee of student understanding. However, students generally cannot properly understand what they are taught in the absence of creative teachers. Employing creative teachers is thus a priority for the education system, along with the deployment of the new technology.
The goal is to modernise the education system in order to benefit all Egyptian students. This can be done by employing a comprehensive technology strategy that can help us to do so while not going beyond our limited resources.
The writer teaches in the English Department at the Faculty of Arts at Menoufiya University.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly