The Senate – Egypt’s consultative upper house – voted Monday against new amendments aiming to introduce a three-year thanawya amma (high school) system and open the door for students to pass electronic exams.
The amendments, which were rejected by the Senate’s Education Committee, aim to change the thanawya amma stage to be three years instead of one.
An explanatory note said students will have to pass thanawya amma exams over three years, with the grades they get at the end of each year added up at the end of the three years. “Students would also be allowed to pass exams several times, but with the stipulation that the first exam is held free, and the next exams are against fees,” said the report.
Students who wish to pass exams on certain subjects, hoping to get higher grades, will be also allowed to do so but only against a payment of EGP 5,000 per subject.
Students can also pass online exams by the use of tablet computers.
Minister of Education Tarek Shawky deplored the rejection, saying that “it means that the Senate stands against the reform of the new education system.”
Shakwy said the new system aims to improve the quality of high school education and improve skills of students before they join university.
Egypt’s minister of Education Tarek Shawky appeared in the Senate on Monday to strongly defend the new amendments to the education law (129/1981).
Addressing a Senate plenary meeting on the amendments to the education law (129/1981), Shawky said the objective of the new system is to help students get “real and actual” education over three years in stead of getting a “false certificate” based on memorizing and rote-learning under the current one-year system.
“This new system affords students an opportunity to develop their learning capacities before they join a university,” said Shawky, adding that “this is a cumulative system, like the one adopted in American and British schools, at the end of which students become qualified to join universities.”
Shawky argued that the new system aims to eliminate the phenomenon of ‘private tutors’. “You all know the huge amount of money Egyptian families pay each year to private tutors,” said Shakwy.
He said the thanawya amma exams should no longer be a “scarecrow” for students.
“The thanawya amma is a huge burden for every education minister and we want the new system to get rid of this burden,” said Shawky, also adding that “the new system opens the door for online and electronic exams necessary to eliminate the phenomenon of exam leaks.”
“The state had to pay EGP 1.3 billion last year to safeguard thanawya amma exams against leaks,” said Shawky, indicating that president Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi asked that electronic exams be adopted in the most possible wide scale.
Shawky said the government’s objective is to completely “destroy the current thanawya amma system” because it creates generations and generations of uneducated and unqualified students”.
“We want to break the thanawya amma idol by introducing this new system which aims to develop students’ skills and levels of understanding instead of leaving them be prey to the current antiquated systems based on memorising,” said Shawki.
Shawky attacked the Senate’s Education Committee for rejecting the Education Law’s amendments. “The Committee rejected the law because it just imposes fees on students who want to pass exams several times to improve their skills and get higher degrees,” said Shawky, admitting that “the principle of free education has just become ink on paper and that the current thanawya amma system has killed this principle on the ground.”
“There is no free education right now because the current system forces families to pay huge amounts of money for private tutors, and this is a phenomenon we want to eliminate,” said Shawky.
In response, however, Head of the Senate’s Education Committee Nabil Dibis insisted that the amendments to the Education Law and the thanwya amma system are rejected by the committee’s members for several reasons.
“What Minister Shawky calls a ‘cumulative thanawya amma system’ is not suitable for Egyptian families because it puts them under huge psychological, nervous, and financial pressure,” said Dibis, arguing that “the new system will make Egyptian families live in a state of high tension over three years and this is not fair.”
Dibis said “the committee members prefer that a one-year system be adopted, and that students study just six subjects, three in the first term and three in the second.”
Dibis announced that the committee is not against reforming Egypt’s educational system. “But we believe that this reform should be introduced gradually and over stages and without radical changes which might be painful for Egyptian families,” said Dibis, adding that “the new thanawya amma system should be tailored to the needs of Egyptian society and not to be imported from America to be implemented here.”
Dibis recommended that the Ministry of Education embark on simplifying the current system instead of spreading it over three years. “We see that the current system exhausts students because it obliges them to study a lot of subjects, and so we see that students should study just six subjects, because this will give them time to understand and join university in the most qualified way,” said Dibis.
Dibis also insisted that the new three-year system violates the constitution because it contravenes the two constitutional principles of free education and equality.
The Senate’s deputy speaker Bahaa El-Din Abu Shoka joined Dibis in rejecting the amendments, also arguing that the new three-year system will exert a lot of financial and psychological pressure on Egyptian families.
“The new amendments are just a patchwork, and we need a comprehensive reform of the education system in Egypt as a whole,” said Abu Shoqa.
The Senate’s Deputy Speaker Phoebe Fawzy also rejected the amendments, insisting that they violate the constitution.
Senator Noha Zaky said Egypt implemented a two-year system in the 1990s and the result was painful for Egyptian families.
“The three-year system will be much more painful, and it will exacerbate the phenomenon of private tutors,” said Zaki.
In comments, Minister Shawky said “if the Senate wants Egypt to move forward, it should support reforming the thanawya amma system.” He warned that “the Senate’s rejection will confuse the public opinion on the objectives of the amendments.”
In response, Senate Speaker Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razeq said “the Senate’s rejection of the amendments to the education law does not mean that it stands against any kind of reform.”
“I think members have the right to object to the amendments, and this does not necessarily mean that they stand against reform,” said Abdel-Razeq.