Egyptian mothers have launched what they describe as a “revolution” against the country's government-mandated school curriculum, demanding that their input and concerns be included in determining the educational policy at a time when the education ministry is taking steps to reform the system.
Several groups have been formed on Facebook in the past few months calling for reform in primary and high school education, including "Egyptian mothers' revolution on the school curriculum", "Mothers rebel against education," and "Your curriculums are void campaign," with thousands joining and participating in the discussions.
“We created [Facebook] groups almost four years ago to help each other understand parts of the curriculum in order to help our kids study,” Sally Hamdy, a homemaker and mother of three school-age children, told Ahram Online.
She says, however, that a "contagion" of dissatisfaction with the curriculum started spreading in these groups, “so we created other groups to discuss these problems.”
Hamdy is an administrator for the Facebook group “Your curriculums are void campaign,” which hosts over 145,000 angry parents seeking change.
The parents' main grievance is that their children do not have enough time to study the huge mandated school curriculums, whose contents will be included in the end-of-year exams scheduled for May.
They demand the cancellation of some parts of the curriculum so their children have enough time to study the rest.
“There was a pattern… these were not individual concerns. We had the same problems,” Hamdy said, adding that parents were airing grievances that had been piling up for decades.
“My children wake up at 5:30 am, go to school, come home at 4:30 pm, eat in a rush so they can study until 9 or 10 pm, and then repeat it again the next day,” Hamdy said. “There’s no time for anything else. No fun at all.”
She also echoed the concerns of other parents who say that the school curriculums are heavily based on memorisation.
“My daughter had an Arabic midterm the other day and I kept telling her 'go memorise, go memorise, go memorise'," she said. "I don’t believe in just memorising, but that is the only way to pass an exam."
But what really struck Hamdy is the effect this had on her relationship with her children.
“My relationship with my sixth-grader son became very bad, we’re fighting all day to make him study and memorise his lessons,” she said.
Education expert Kamal Mogith told Ahram Online that parents paying attention to the education system was a positive thing, saying that indifference by parents had contributed to Egypt ranking second-to-last in education worldwide in 2015-2016.
According to CAPMAS Egypt had 9.3 million students in primary stage in governmental schools in the school year 2014-15 and another 948,400 in the primary stage in private schools supervised by the education ministry also in the same school year.
Last March, Education minister El-Hilali El-Sherbini, appointed in September 2015, acknowledged many of the parents' concerns in an interview with Sada El-Balad TV channel.
El-Sherbini conceded that the curriculums have unnecessary “stuffing,” that the classes are overcrowded, that there are not enough schools to accommodate all pupils, and that the teachers are under-trained and underpaid.
The country’s primary-level education, which spans a period of six years, was ranked second-to-last worldwide – standing at number 139 – by the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report for the year 2015-2016.
Calls for reform
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi announced in January that the country's school curriculums would be reformed.
In a visit to Japan late February, El-Sisi and his advisors visited a number of Japanese schools in order to cooperate with the Asian country on improving the education system in Egypt.
El-Shirbini said that a number of curriculums have been revised and improved in the past four months and would be ready for print in May for the academic year 2016-2017, promising that parents would get the chance to view them once they are completed.
However, many of the country's mothers do not simply want the education system to undergo internal reform; they want to be part of the drafting process, arguing that they are the ones who tutor their kids and therefore know what they are capable of comprehending.
Hamdy says, however, that “the ministry sees that it is their job [to develop the curriculums], and that no one has the right to interfere in their jobs.”
Mogith believes that simply redrafting the school curriculum would not be enough to fix the problems facing the education sector.
“The same people who devised the old curriculums are developing [the new ones]; there is no real development and no new horizons,” he said.
The education minister described those developing the school material as mere “tokens” and professors from the oldest universities in Egypt.
“We are directly calling on President El-Sisi to intervene. Egyptian mothers [represent a serious force]," said Hamdy.
"[El-Sisi] previously complemented Egyptian mothers’ stand by the army and the nation, and now we need him to stand by us,” she added.