With public and private schools and institutions of higher education closed, measures to secure the academic future of students have included the rolling out of online learning platforms as well as the postponement and sometimes cancelling of exams.
Minister of Education Tarek Shawki said on Monday night that the he would annuonce later in the week the fate of exams for grades nine and 12. These exams are crucial for students; grade nine grades decide whether students continue in a regular school or get transferred to a technical school. Grade 12 exams are important for university admissions.
Final exams from third year primary school to eighth grade have been cancelled, though students are required to submit a research paper in every subject online within two months. More than one student can participate in the research, said Minister of Education Tarek Shawki at a press conference on Thursday. He added that those who do not submit the required research paper will start the upcoming academic year two weeks earlier than scheduled.
Kindergarten students and those in first and second primary grades will not sit any exams and will be assessed by their teachers who will send reports to parents who should ensure children finish the curriculum available on the e-library. Grade 10 and 11 students will sit exams online using their tablets and results will be sent out via the Internet. Grades 10 and 11 are already part of the new system which incorporates technology in the learning process.
According to a press release issued by the Ministry of Education, homeschooled students or those with special educational needs must submit a project instead of sitting exams. “The curriculum of public schools will not change, both students and parents are urged to use the coursework and resources available through the ministry’s online learning platform,” read the press release.
The ministry has created a website https://www.ekb.eg/ar/home on which study materials in English and Arabic have been uploaded for students between kindergarten and grade 11.
“This process was implemented within four days, which is a great achievement,” the minister said.
Students can also access the e-library from mobile phones and computers and the ministry is making lessons available through specialised TV channels.
The website https://edmodo.org helps teachers to communicate with their students, and the ministry has published a set of videos on how to use the new resources.
Measures adopted to overcome the suspension of schools have met with a variety of responses.
Gihan Salah, mother of year four and year seven students, believes the ministry’s plans for online homeschooling as well as TV educational channels are ideal. Qualified teachers are currently helping students revise what they studied during the first term.
“This method could put an end to the private lessons phenomenon,” says Salah. She adds that her only concern is the minister’s annulment of final exams for years three to eight.
“The minister should have postponed the announcement for a month or two. Now my kids are not interested in studying because they know there will not be any exams.”
Though it is hectic for parents who must closely follow up on their kids students are provided with worksheets and homework in addition to regular coursework. “The whole system is perfect. I wish it could last for the coming academic year,” says Salah.
Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Mervat Fathi, a school teacher in Aswan and a mother of two, believes the ministry’s measures are impractical and few students are likely to study. She points out not all schools have uploaded the necessary materials.
“My daughter who is in grade 11 and using the tablet along with her colleagues created a group on WhatsApp to explain to each other the difficult topics. The school told us they will upload the curriculum and explanations on the school’s official page but nothing has happened yet,” says Fathy.
She says only the most motivated students will log on to the ministry’s websites and watch the educational channels while the less motivated will not bother.
Shehabeddin Mohamed, a grade 11 student at an international school, believes that online classes are impractical. “There is no direct communication with teachers which makes it hard to understand some of the explanations given. Often I want to ask the teacher about things I do not understand but I can’t due to the lack of direct communication.”
Mohamed says “this type of schooling distracts me because I can leave the session anytime and go eat, drink or even sleep.”
Elham Ahmed, the mother of three students at a public school, says she does not know how to use the internet to log onto educational websites.
“We live in an area where many people are illiterate and do not have smartphones or computers,” she says. She is also concerned some teachers will take advantage of the situation and demand money in exchange for allowing children to pass.
Rana Ragab, nine, a student at a public school, says she spends most of the time watching movies and cartoons.
“Why should I study when there is no final year exam. Let’s play and have fun, isn’t it enough that we are locked inside our homes and can’t go out and play in the street,” she says.
Education expert Mohamed Salah believes that the Ministry of Education has taken all the measures necessary to help students as they stay at home. “This system replaces private lessons and will enable students to adapt in a better way with the ministry’s new education system which has introduced electronic education to grades 1, 2, 10,11 via the tablet,” he says, adding that the ministry should continue on the same track when schools are back to normal.
According to Salah, students next year will find it easier to deal with the tablet because they will have been using it more.
The Higher Education Ministry along with the Supreme Council of Universities has cancelled mid-term testing for all public and private universities and postponed final year exams until 30 May.
A number of universities have adopted their own plans to adapt to the new circumstances. Mohamed Eid, director of the internationalisation office at the British University in Egypt (BUE) says the university has transferred classes online and is working in parallel with e-learning platforms. “The university intends to keep its exam schedule as it is connected with international exam schedules,” said Eid.
The American University in Cairo (AUC) has been preparing itself for this possibility since January. According to Tarek Hussein, professor of economics at AUC, each of the university’s faculties has its own online platforms and professors are currently lecturing online, taking attendance and assigning students. “Students must submit assignments on time online and they are graded as usual. As for the date of final term exams, the university will inform students in due time,” he says.
AUC student Mahi Hisham believes online learning is a good alternative given the temporary suspension.
“My professors come online live, they explain to us, we are free to ask any question. I don’t feel anything is different other than the fact that I am at home,” says Hisham.
It has been announced that Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) examinations will not be held in May and June. Examination body Pearson Edexcel and the American Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) have also canceled their exams in Egypt. International Baccalaureate has also canceled exams scheduled between 30 April and 22 May. The Minister of Education said on Monday that he would soon announce what would become of students enrolled in any of these exams.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under headline: Distance Learning