October 05, 2018

"Egypt has a strong academic syllabus but it isn’t always taught well"

Egypt's education system is facing some obstacles

Photo credit: UNICEF / Noorani

Salma Baisam

Global Youth Ambassador from Egypt

Today is World Teachers' Day and the theme is the right to a qualified teacher - here a Global Youth Ambassador whose parents are teachers talks about training and testing.

Egypt has always been a country that cares about education. However, the basic education system is facing some obstacles.

To understand these obstacles I will start by explaining the current system. I am writing from my own experience of growing up in Egypt.

Egypt follows a 6-3-3 pattern, with six years of primary school, three of middle school then three of high school. There are many types of schools in Egypt - government-run, Arabic language, English language, private and various religious schools. 

However, even though we have all these different kinds of schools, attending anything other than public education can be very costly. Therefore it is not very common and is classified as an upper-class privilege.

Even though Egypt has a very strong academic syllabus, students aren’t able to make best use of it because it isn’t taught correctly. For example, in foreign language classes we learn a lot of grammar and vocabulary but we rarely practise listening or speaking. 

The same goes for the sciences. We learn the theory but rarely put our knowledge to the test in a laboratory environment. 

In the final year of school, students are not graded at all on attendance and therefore the majority do not attend.

The exams and tests we go through are mainly based on our ability to memorise textbooks rather than understand them. There aren’t many facilities available to nurture an interest in technology or sport, so the focus is heavily academic and this eventually leads to students losing interest.

Students are graded mostly on their final exam. Areas such as class interaction, homework and attendance aren’t taken into consideration. 

In the final year of school, students are not graded at all on attendance and therefore the majority do not attend. It has reached the point now where many schools don’t have classrooms for final-year students because the system doesn’t require them to attend. 

This means that students are forced to attend private lessons outside of school. Can you imagine the waste of time and money spent on taking private lessons in all subjects?

To join your desired faculty or university, you need to obtain a certain score in your final test. ONE TEST! That is it.

This system is known as “Thanawya amma” or the General Egyptian high-school Diploma. The pressure of achieving the required grades on this one test mean students face a very stressful final year. 

Plans are in place for a new education system to be implemented next year

Photo credit: WFP

Often there are mistakes made in marking and assigning students to universities that mean that corruption is rife. Corruption is polluting our systems and we need to stand up for ourselves or else we will live to witness the next generation of students being exposed to the same injustice.

We have under-qualified teachers - this is especially difficult for me to write about as both of my parents are teachers. Sadly, most teachers are under-qualified for their role as the faculty of education accepts students with low grades to teacher training. Moreover, they are not sufficiently trained to deal with children. 

Lack of decent facilities also hampers many good teachers' efforts to give their students inspiring and engaging lessons. My mother often gets called to give technology training but they ask her to do this in a school that doesn't have any IT equipment.

Another thing that I have observed in their job is the lack of supervision. The quality assurance departments work with papers only, meaning that a teacher could get away with not actually educating students as long as all their reports are complete. 

Needless to say, this results in many fake reports and not enough education. Therefore, the quality of teaching is dependent on a teacher's conscience and dedication to do a good job.

The final thing to note is that teaching is one of the lowest-paid jobs in Egypt. My parents have been working as teachers for over 20 years and their salary has just exceeded £2000 per year. 

This is not enough to make a living and therefore they need to subsidise their teaching with other sources of income such as private tutoring, which costs them a lot of time. I can definitely see how a young teacher can easily lose their passion for the job when working in such circumstances.

There are just a few of the issues I have seen from my personal experience but I would like to end this article with some hope. 

There are plans for a new education system to be implemented next year. The plan involves providing students with iPads and external resources for all subjects, in-depth training for teachers and a complete reform of the testing system. 

Instead of being tested once there will be 12 exams over three years and they take your highest six scores for your final grade.

We are all hopeful that this huge project will be successful in our country and that it won’t end up being a mixture of fake reports and wonderful plans that only work on paper.

We are a global children's charity committed to ending the global education crisis and unleashing the potential of the next generation.

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