Egypt's education ministry mourns thanaweya amma student who threw himself off Cairo tower

Ahram Online , Wednesday 13 Jun 2018

Egyptian students attend a secondary school class at a private school in Cairo in 2013(Photo: AFP)

Egypt's Ministry of Education on Wednesday issued a statement mourning the death of Gerges Saber, a secondary student who jumped from the 140-meter-high Cairo Tower on Monday.

According to media reports, Saber, 19, missed a number of the highly stressful final secondary exams, which decide students' future courses of study at university.

Speaking on Monday night at a ministry event shortly after the news of Saber's death became public, Education Minister Tarek Shawky said that the thanaweya amma exam system "has ruined us all."

The minister's comments made on the night of Gerges Saber's death come in response to yearly increasing numbers of thanaweya amma students taking their own lives during the exam season.

Saber's apparent suicide is the third such incident since exams started last week.

In January 2017, the education ministry introduced the new booklet system, aimed at reducing errors in the correction process and eliminating exam leaks.

The new system requires students to provide their answers on the test sheet itself rather than on a separate answer sheet, as per the previous system. Thus far however the step has proved insufficient.

Shawky, a strong advocate of the need for a new system of high school education as part of the ongoing education reform initiative, argued on Monday that the way education is popularly understood in Egypt must change to avoid such tragedies in the future.

"The importance placed upon chasing a quarter or half mark, or on getting certificates merely to enhance social status while completely ignoring the development of skills, the private tutoring lessons and cheating in and leaking of exams, are all attitudes that must change among Egyptians," the minister said, affirming that the system cannot afford to produce more certificate holders who lack skills.

Shawky stressed that the country's interests are not being served by the attitude passed down to most Egyptians towards education.

"People in our country know how to go around the education system, they know how to get marks and certificates, with cheating even encouraged by parents. The thanaweya amma has ruined us," Shawky said.

The minister referred to the thousands of pounds per year spent by Egyptian parents on private tutoring for their children in an attempt to get them admitted to the country’s top universities, calling it a "pure squandering of the public's funds," as "there are not low-ranking or top universities."

In April, Shawky had proposed a system of cumulative grading based on performance in the last three years thanaweya amma to replace the current one-time-test system.

The minister said at the time that "it's completely illogical for one year of education to control a student's future."

The decades old division of students into either science or humanities tracks is set to be replaced, according to the minister's new plan.

"In the new system, every student will get what they deserve: students who don't understand their syllabus won't pass, students who can't read or write won't even reach the preparatory school stage," the minister had argued.

However, the minister's proposal has received criticism from many parents and students, and is yet to be discussed by parliament.

The minister responded to criticism saying "to those opposing the new system I ask just one question: is a certificate with no meaning all you want for your children?"

"We don’t want certificates that don’t benefit the holder. Excellence means being the best at what you are capable of doing and of what you like doing. If you like music for instance, excellence would mean mastering music, not joining the faculty of medicine or engineering," the minister added.

Shawky urged parents to assist the state efforts to reform education, for the sake of upcoming generations.

Over the years, dozens of thanaweya amma students have taken their own lives during the course of the final exams, and after receiving undesired marks and under parental pressure to achieve.

Last April, Egypt's Ministry of Health released the results of its latest study on the mental health of thanaweya amma students, indicating that nearly 30 percent of students suffer from psychological problems, with 21 percent experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

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