Ex-teacher Hassan Abdeltawab dishes out the (slightly unfortunate) details of Egypt's school system. Allah yr7amak ya Taha Hussein!
Education in Egypt is a problem. There, I said it! Really, though, there’s no point in sugarcoating it. Who has been through school here in Egypt and can actually say they were fully or properly educated? I used to be a high school teacher; I even spent nine years of my life in the field of education. I tell you this with all the confidence of my firsthand experience: it is just too flawed. So flawed, in fact, that we’re talking about years upon years of extensive repairs required. To be fair, one must acknowledge that the fault falls on all entities in no particular order - the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Higher Education, school administrations, teachers, parents, parents, and parents. Yes, I said parents three times right there. Normally, when any country has a flawed institution, it isn’t really such a big hassle to mend because, in the normal world, a country has no more than one or two educational systems in place, with one nationally standardised curriculum. Egypt masha2allah 3aleiha has nine different types of schools with a total of five different strands of curricula. El ba7r ye7ib el zyada, bas mish zyada awi kda ya balad. Public, Tagreebi, Private Arabic, Private Language, American, British, Canadian, French, and German schools teach either the ministry curriculum, high school diploma, IG, Lycee, or IB in whatever language each school decides to utilise. This list will unveil many of the general flaws within seven of the school types we have in the country.
A public school is one that offers a full ministry-based curriculum in Arabic only, with annual fees that vary between 26 LE all the way up to 147 LE - not including textbooks. Isn’t it just amazing that the country has the option of providing practically free ‘education’ for all those in need? All public schools involve little to no instruction on all levels in the classrooms, unless ministry officials are dropping in for a visit. I used to volunteer with and tutor middle school students who went to public schools. These 13-15 year olds are in grades 7 and 8, yet they are 100 per cent illiterate. Walahy they can’t even read their own names. The reason behind this atrocity is lack of proper ministry supervision and teacher salaries that fall between 453 LE and 1,427 LE. The teachers naturally need to make up for the money they are not making by forcing their students to attend private tutoring if they want to pass. Sadly, not all these kids can pay the 30 LE an hour for each subject, and most of these children have illiterate parents who can’t help them study at home.
Tagreebi schools are just the same and almost just as bad as public schools; the difference is they choose to be bad while teaching in ‘English’. If a teacher actually decided to use English in class with their students who barely even understand Arabic, they end up coming face-to-face with an atrocity far worse than “Whaz abouz your firs oscarz Leo.” Tagreebi in direct translation is ‘experimental’; it is literally called an experimental school. They ‘experiment’ with the usage of the ‘English’ language for in-class instruction. Yes, when compared to their Arabic counterpart, Tagreebi schools are much better in the sense that the students up until middle school are actually being taught something - but don’t expect that any of the students can actually speak proper English. The only real reason Tagreebi is better than Public is because the annual tuition is slightly higher, the salaries are a little more reasonable, and government officials visit them more often.
Private Arabic Schools
Now we can actually start jumping into more sophisticated flaws with education since we are talking about the private sector, and money is no longer the only leading cause of failure. The tuition fees for these schools range between 3,000 and 15,000 LE, which is a huge difference when compared to the public schools. Salaries for teachers range between 1,800 and 4,000 LE, which is more humane in comparison. The curriculum is 100 percent government-issued and has only been slightly modified and upgraded over the past 40 years. It is safe to say that, from grades 1 up until 9, the curriculum is two and sometimes three grade levels lower than it is on an international level. Here is the kicker, though: these kids going to Arabic schools don’t understand anything they’re taught. They are raised into an academic culture where memorising is so much more important than understanding or being able to put anything into realistic application. Creativity is practically a myth to these kids because they have never been exposed to an academic environment that is capable of fostering their creativity.
Private Language Schools
Language schools are similar to their Arabic counterpart, el7amdullah, in that class instruction exists. The label ‘language’ school is earned because they teach the same curriculum while using an English textbook for each subject. However, most of the instruction involves the teacher speaking in Arabic while adding a word in English every other sentence. It’s sad to say, although it is no surprise, that social class and English fluency are directly linked in Egypt. These kids who can only afford to attend such schools in the hope of learning English end up knowing a sum of maybe 500 words that are used in the middle of Arabic sentences. Yet the majority of jobs available in the country require the applicants to be somewhat fluent in English. It is an impossibly screwed up loop of fails.
Crappy International Schools
From 30,000 to 60,000 LE of khara American and British education, parents and students become the victims of one of the greatest cons to have hit Egypt. There are more than 200 American and British international schools in the country; with the exception of maybe 10, the others all fall into this category. The British schools are a little less crappy only because, at certain grade levels, the kids have to take standardised tests that are shipped in from the UK. But let me jump into the heart of the matter, and try to bear with me.
Let’s start with the teachers; they are all either underpaid or overpaid individuals who, generally speaking, have no proper experience or certification to actually become a teacher. Graduates of engineering become math teachers; graduates of medicine or pharmacy become science teachers; graduates of any English language university become English teachers. Almost zero teachers at these schools have graduated from a university with a degree in education. Why? Because there are no universities that offer a BA in Education in Egypt. I’m going to avoid mass generalisations and say that 90 percent of teachers in any of these schools don’t even properly do their jobs as educators. They go to work and pretend to teach these kids by giving them work to do after minimal instruction and guidance. They give out grades according to what they feel the students deserve and not according to the work submitted, which is probably never even looked at. Those select few who try to do a good job and grade students fairly are most likely always prohibited from failing any student and, in some places, even prohibited from giving a grade lower than a B.
This brings us to school administrations who are corrupt, money-hungry vultures that are ok with giving out grades rather than actually educating and motivating these children. Most of these children come from families who don’t give a flying fuck whether their kid is learning or developing, as long as the report card looks good at the end of the day. The government does not interfere and the accreditation board - otherwise known as AdvancEd - only visits an American school once every three, four, or five years to find a staff that has perfectly rehearsed on how to earn their school accreditation for a few more years. In the end, the only real education any of these kids get happens while they are studying for their SATs by attending private tutoring - taught by none other than their schoolteachers who are already overpaid.
French and German Schools
These schools are currently plentiful in the country and have become a popular choice among most parents. Parents whose children are already proficient in Arabic as their mother tongue are trying to ensure that their children grow to have fluency in three different languages, making English a third language that is considered easier to learn. In comparison to all schools in the country, I personally and professionally believe that most of these schools are the best of the worst in terms of education provided. If the school is not teaching using the governmental standardised curriculum, they tend to be better off. Because both France and Germany have powerful academic systems in place, if utilised, they tend to be the most efficient.
‘Good’ International Schools
When I say ‘good’ I more accurately mean ‘better’. The words ‘good’ and ‘education’ don’t really match in an Egyptian context. These schools go for 80,000 LE a year all the way up to 160,000 LE, if not more. For that kind of money, you have to expect something in return. They only hire teachers who are certified and super qualified, they teach and instruct properly and diligently, they offer higher level of studies - such as the IB system - and they even fail students who are not worthy of passing. Sounds amazing, right? Where is that flaw, though?
I would say the greatest flaw lies in the environment and culture that the schools and parents neglect to pay attention to. The majority of kids who have been through these schools, and even many of those from the crappy international, live a life that is defined by drugs, alcohol, and underage “coitus,” as Sheldon would say. These kids live with little to no supervision or proper guidance to help them learn what to avoid and why.
It’s frustrating to read through all of this, especially if you are a new parent who actually cares. It seems like no place is safe. The less money you have, the less education you get; the more money you have, the less social safety you get. Ana mo7bit wi ka2eeb fil mawdoo3 dah, I know; my friends tell me that every time I talk about schools.
Hi, this is Hassan.
Hassan spent nine years trying to find a good side to education in Egypt.
Hassan failed and is planning on homeschooling his future children.
Be like Hassan.