Educational reform is a long and exhausting process, regardless of the country in which it is carried out. This is all the more the case if the process has been put off too long. When we contemplate the state of the educational system in Egypt as we embark on this process, the cumulative effects of deficiencies that have built up over decades are readily visible at first glance.
It is little wonder that education has been given the highest priority in the framework of the Egyptian modernisation project. A good education is the key to building new generations equipped to handle the sciences of tomorrow and to meet the demands of a labour market that will increasingly rely on brainpower and innovativeness.
As President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi pointed out during the inauguration of King Salman University in Sharm El-Sheikh last Saturday, now that Egypt has a population of 100 million, Egypt needs 100 universities, or a university for every million people. The government “is striving to develop an educational system commensurate to our hopes and dreams”, he said. “We have 30,000 Egyptians studying abroad, which places a financial burden on their families and communities. But the problem is not limited to money. There are other circumstances, such as the Covid-19 crisis. Our hope is to be able to accommodate all those students in Egypt, or at least a large portion of them.” There are currently 72 universities in Egypt. The government hopes to bring the number up to 125 by 2023.
Egypt’s educational reform journey began in 2014 with an initiative to set the country on the path to “an Egyptian society that learns, thinks and innovates.” The initiative brought the launch of the Egyptian Knowledge Bank (EKB) in 2014, a project that marked a major step towards building a modern society by facilitating universal access to scientific and human knowledge. The Ministry of Education struck 33 partnerships with international scientific and educational organisations such as National Geographic and Discovery Education.
Attention then turned to revamping and modernising the conventional educational system in order to raise its standard in international ranking systems. Because of the accumulated problems in the existing system, it was thought best to create an entirely new system. This was set into motion in September 2018, starting with nursery schools and first grade elementary levels and the first year of secondary school. A priority was given to incorporating digital transformation and an IT infrastructure into the new educational system in view of how important such factors are to sustaining the educational process.
Considerable attention was also dedicated to developing the technical and vocational education system in order to produce labour adept at the diverse skills needed for an economic resurgence that will render Egypt more competitive in international markets. The drive will alter prevailing negative attitudes towards technical and vocational education. It involved, firstly, the creation of an independent body to certify the quality of technical education on offer, and secondly the creation of a technical education teachers academy with several branches across the country.
At the level of student healthcare, the government has conducted Hepatitis C and B tests on more than 20 million students and introduced a drive to eliminate stunting and anaemia among elementary school students.
Naturally, teacher training is a crucial component of the educational reform process in Egypt. It is an integral part of what Minister of Education Tarek Shawki described as promoting an educational reform project that aims to improve the climate of instruction and learning acquisition in government schools. The minister added that the project also aims to increase enrolment figures, especially in poorer areas, and to improve educational services by furnishing digital educational resources and introducing in-service professional development programmes for educational staff and administrators.
The challenges are neither few nor easy when dealing with the question of education in a country the size of Egypt. However, a genuine effort is under way with considerable support from international agencies and partnerships with eminent educational institutions. It should stimulate a major breakthrough in the near future, one that defies the lack of resources, bureaucratic hurdles and conventional thinking, while bringing all on board this ambitious drive, especially the private sector.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 5 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly