President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi named 2019 the Year of Education during a youth conference in July of last year. “Real educational reform is difficult. It requires sacrifice from students, teachers and parents,” Al-Sisi said at the time.
Despite complaints from sometimes befuddled students and parents the Ministry of Education has ploughed on with reforms to the educational system. Rolling out the new system, unveiled at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, is a priority for the government which aims to end rote learning, expand the use of foreign languages and technology and make final grades dependent on a process of continuous assessment rather than being weighted to final exams.
Education experts took more than two years fine-tuning the system which is based on digital learning and eliminates testing based on memorisation. Instead of textbooks, Reda Hegazi, head of the Public Education Sector at the Ministry of Education, told Al-Ahram Weekly the ministry has distributed tablets to students for use when studying and taking exams. The tablets are connected to high-speed Internet servers to encourage students to search for information.
The new system currently applies to all grade 10 and 11 students, KG1, KG2, and primary1 to 4 students and is being steadily rolled out until it covers all years. Primary 1 to 3 students do not sit monthly or end-of-term exams which begin only when they reach grade 4. Secondary students will sit 12 exams in each subject over the three years of secondary stage and final grades will be calculated on the basis of the best six grades the students achieve.
“By the end of the next academic year the ministry will review the whole system to assess whether there is space for improvements,” said Hegazi.
The Ministry of Education has also been busy implementing other reforms. They include the introduction of public schools which will teach international curricula. According to Hegazi, the ministry’s strategy is to offer curricula that prepare students for the future, provide them with life skills and encourage them to think and solve problems while developing a sense of loyalty and belonging in a fun learning environment.
The ministry has set up a website for the new international schools — http://cairomoe.net/international-schools — that parents can log on to for further information. In addition, there are plans to build 100 new Japanese-curriculum schools over the next four years.
The government’s vision to transform the educational system also includes plans to expand the number of foreign universities in Egypt and develop scientific research.
In a press release, the Minister of Higher Education Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar said that 2020 will see several international, private and government universities open. The New Administrative Capital will be home to the lion’s share of these new institutions. Six branches of international universities, three technological universities, four new state-run universities and seven private universities are already slated to open in Egypt’s new capital. According to Abdel-Ghaffar, the new universities will contribute to raising the standards of teaching and scientific research and offer state-of-the-art professional and scientific training.
Egypt currently has 20 public universities which cater to two million students, and 23 private universities with 60,000 students.
Adel Abdel-Ghaffar, official spokesman at the Ministry of Higher Education, says the new universities will offer varied educational programmes, including nanotechnology and mechatronics, mining, aquatic biology and green chemistry, to meet the needs of the local, regional and international labour market.
“They will also offer courses in the arts, environmental design, digital and visual media, cinema and theatre, design and animation and studies related to tourism and the hospitality industry,” said the ministry spokesman.
Egypt is seeking to double the number of overseas students studying at local universities and attract more foreign investments in the higher education sector.
The private universities law allows foreign universities to establish branches in Egypt. According to the Secretary of the Private Universities Council Ezzeddin Abu Steit, once the Ministry of Education approves the contract the branches will be registered as private education providers.
As the construction of the New Administrative Capital continues, the presence of branches of foreign universities is being framed as a positive development that will boost the economy by attracting overseas students and raise the standards of education across the board.
Students at branches of international universities receive the same degree awarded by the university in its home country. “The degree is fully accredited in Egypt and recognised by professional syndicates,” says Abu Steit, and also offers graduates the option of seeking employment abroad.
The universities will also be instrumental in strengthening academic, scientific and cultural links with foreign institutions abroad.
The tablet mania
THIS ACADEMIC year the Ministry of Education smoothed over problems related to the use of computer tablets. While the year started off with grade 10 students complaining they were unable to use the ministry’s new gadget in exams, and parents fretting over the future of their children, the 2019-2020 school year has so far passed without complications.
While the tablets were distributed to only grade 10 students last year, this year, both grade 10 and 11 students received the device. Using the tablet in the educational process is a new experience for Egyptian students. Besides being an educational tool, the tablets are fully protected and are reportedly impenetrable. Last year, one million tablets were distributed to 10th grade students, teachers and school directors.
They were given for free and would not have to be returned. The ministry allocated LE30 million for their maintenance. The first batch of tablets was from Samsung which offered to supply one million tablets for the 2018-2019 academic year for LE2.4 billion. One tablet would cost around $80, however, negotiations are underway to manufacture them locally.
When tablets were introduced in Egypt, students were unable to access servers to take exams. The Internet-based system requires students to use a unique user name and password, as well as an exam code. In many cases, schools reported Wi-Fi problems, a freezing of the system, and power outages during exams. As a preliminary solution, students who experienced any of these problems took their exam in the traditional paper form.
However, to solve these problems once and for all, the Ministry of Education enhanced school servers and Internet connections. It also provided students with SIM cards if they were unable to access the server. Electric generators were distributed to some schools while others underwent substantial maintenance for their electricity network. The result is that this academic year for the most part, students have had few complaints about their tablets.
The education reform programme is part of Egypt’s development strategy, Vision 2030, which stresses that nothing less than a complete overhaul of education is needed for social transformation in the country.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 December, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the title: The year of education