Legislative amendments intended to overhaul secondary education, and which were rejected by the Senate on 19 April, will be discussed by the House of Representatives’ Education Committee next week.
An explanatory note said Article 8 of the Education Law 129/1981 will be amended so secondary school students’ final results — the grades which determine the university faculties to which they may apply — are decided on the basis of a cumulative three-year assessment rather than results in the final year. The note added that students will be allowed to re-sit exams in an attempt to improve their grades in given subjects — while a first re-sit will be free, subsequent exams will cost LE5000 — and that all exams will be conducted electronically using tablets.
In response to the Senate’s rejection of the proposed changes, Minister of Education Tarek Shawki said senators had focused on the charges that would be levied for students seeking to re-sit exams for a third time, mistakenly arguing that the fees undermined the principle of free education.
“The fact is the principle of free education is currently no more than ink on paper,” said Shawki. “The current Thanaweya Amma system forces families to pay huge amounts of money for private tutors to cram their children during exam season. This is something we want to end.”
Shawki argued that the amendments would facilitate “real and actual” education over three years, whereas currently students have to depend on memorising and rote-learning so that they can get through the host of examinations set at the end of their final year at school.
Another advantage of the proposed system, according to Shawki, is that it allows for the exclusive use of online and electronic exams, which will help eliminate the leaking of exams that has plagued the existing system for years.
“The state had to pay LE1.3 billion last year to protect the Thanaweya Amma exams from leaks,” said Shawki. He added that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had asked for electronic exams to be adopted as widely as possible.
Shawki said the government’s objective is to completely replace the current Thanaweya Amma system which had created “generations of unqualified students”.
Nabil Deibis, head of the Senate’s Education Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “what the minister calls a cumulative system will leave Egyptian families facing huge psychological, nervous, and financial pressures over three years.”
Instead, argued Deibis, “a one-year system should be adopted with students studying just six subjects, three in the first term and three in the second.”
Deibis thinks the Ministry of Education should simplify the current Thanaweya Amma system, instead of spreading it over three years, and argues that any reforms should be introduced gradually to allow families to adjust.
“The new Thanaweya Amma system should be tailored to the needs of Egyptian society and not to be imported from the US to be implemented here,” concluded Deibis.
Former education minister Mohab Al-Rafei said in a TV interview that “the problem with the Thanaweya Amma system is not the number of years over which it is applied but the quality of education on offer.” He also claimed the experience of electronic exams, including technical problems such as poor Internet connections, had led most families to distrust them.
Shawki responded by saying it was President Al-Sisi who had requested greater use be made of electronic exams and that “many state authorities, including the Telecommunication Ministry, will be responsible for implementing the transition from paper to electronic exams and guaranteeing it is safe and efficient.”
Wafd Party Chairman Bahaeddin Abu Shoka issued a statement condemning the proposed reforms as likely to place families under financial and psychological strain, and arguing that “the new amendments are just a patchwork when what we need at the moment is a comprehensive reform of the education system.”
Senator Noha Zaki insisted that“the three-year system will exacerbate the phenomenon of private tutors” rather than eliminate them
Zaki said reform of the Thanawya Amma system should not be confined to the number of years or holding electronic exams but “must include the curricula, teaching systems and the rehabilitation of schools”.
Abdel-Hai Ebeid, former chairman of Helwan University, said attempts to reform the education system were badly timed and that most families were ill-equipped to deal with such changes when they were already burdened with the problems brought by the coronavirus pandemic.
Sami Hashem, head of the House of Representatives’ Education Committee, said the committee will discuss the new amendments next week.
“We appreciate the efforts being exerted by Minister Shawki to reform public education, but it is essentially up to MPs to decide which amendments are rejected,” said Hashem. He stressed that rejecting the current amendments does not mean that the House is opposed to reform.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly