As historic teachers' strike enters its fourth day, Ahram Online hears from some of those involved

Sarah Raslan, Tuesday 20 Sep 2011

The teachers complain of low pay and the lack of investment in education, leading to badly-equipped classrooms and poor learning environments

Teachers strike
Teachers say they will continue their strike until their demands are met (Photo by: Mai Shaheen)

Students at El-Waraq High School said they were hoping for change in the Egyptian education system following the January 25 Revolution, but they did not expect to start the school year without teachers or lessons.

Walaa Ahmed, who is expecting to graduate from high school this year, said she is not complaining about the lack of homework but that she would like to learn something so that she could attend a university.

“I do understand that my teachers are in a tough position and that they are paid very low wages for the amount of time and energy they spend on us,” she said.

The ambitious student continues to come to school in her uniform, a light blue button-up shirt and a long navy blue skirt, in case her teachers decide to start classes.

“I still come to school hoping they will start teaching soon. I don’t blame them for anything though; that’s what we had a revolution for.”

Many students like 17-year-old Ahmed stood outside the school’s gates waiting for the male students to come out before they entered the school grounds. The school functions as a boys’ school from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and as a girls’ school from noon to 4:30 p.m.

The teachers stood inside the gates of the school, refusing to enter the classrooms and allow the year’s learning process to begin. Some discussed their demands with co-workers while others could be found sipping tea and socialising with students. As the third day of the 2011-2012 school year stretched on, so did the teachers’ strike.

Abdelhakim Abdelbar, a high school maths teacher, said he had stayed silent for too long, and now was the time for the teachers’ voices to finally be heard.

“The teachers are striking because the government does not care about them,” said Abdelbar, who has been teaching maths at El-Waraq High School for 23 years.

“The government does not provide enough desks and chairs for the students and they don’t provide enough pay for the teachers.”

Abdelbar said that each class consists of approximately 75 students for a time period of half an hour. Another teacher jokingly said that the actual class time was less than ten minutes.

“How can I teach the students when they can’t find a place to sit?” he asked.

The teacher said that after working at the high school for over two decades, his total pay is LE 1,150 per month.

The striking teachers’ demands include salary, benefits and bonus increases, better learning environments and better treatment.

“It’s not about the money,” said Shoukry El-Ganzoury, a maths teacher and Abdelbar’s co-worker. “Salaries are not our number one priority. Yes, they are important, but not the most important. We want good learning environments and we want teachers to be treated with respect.”

He said he sat with his students and explained the reason for the strike.

“My students told me they agree with me and the strike and that they would bring their parents to join the strike tomorrow,” El-Ganzoury said.

El-Ganzoury added that the starting salary for a teacher should be LE 1,300 and should increase with experience and time.

This strike marks the first time since 1951 that Egypt’s teachers have come together to demonstrate.

Teachers all over Egypt have been participating in this historic strike. According to independent groups following the strike, 25 teachers in the Gharbiya governorate have begun a hunger strike which is to continue until the educators’ demands are met. The groups monitoring the strike also report that there is a total strike in some of Egypt’s governorates.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said earlier today that after meeting with the minister of finance yesterday he has found that it will be difficult for the government to meet the financial demands of 1.5 million teachers and 6 million other public servants. Sharaf said that he is continuously communicating with the minister of education in an effort to find a solution to the teacher's demands.

"They're saying the country and the ministry have no money, but we all know how much money they have and what they do with it," said Magdi Shedeed, a maths teacher at El-Waraq High School.

A protest outside the cabinet’s headquarters, located in Kasr El-Nil Street near parliament, has been planned by the teachers and is scheduled for Saturday. Teachers from El-Waraq High School will be joining the protest alongside others who are expected to come from different governorates around the country.

The teachers of El-Waraq High School invited Ahram Online to view the conditions of the classrooms. The reporter was only able to quickly glance at a few classrooms before school management noticed and stopped further touring of the school. The classrooms were equipped with approximately seven benches, which appeared to seat four students each.

School management refused comment regarding the strike and said journalists were not allowed on school perimeters.

“If we don't show the current transitional government that we are serious now, then those who come next will not hear our cries," El-Ganzoury said.

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