With a veritable litany of 21st century educational reforms from kindergarten to secondary, Minister Tarek Shawky’s massively ambitious endeavour is a sorely needed undertaking.
If one were to sum up Egypt’s educational system as it stands, without resorting to crass terminology, the word “miserable” seems to fit the bill well enough. Designed to be more akin to storage units or microwaves than a home for knowledge and growth, the country’s schools and staff are almost singularly focused on pushing out droves of drones, rather than logical, creative individuals. So it came as more of a shock to all interested parties to see Minister Tarek Shawky’s many statements about thoroughly revamping the school system, figuratively from the ground up.
Seeing as you’re too busy to figure out what’s what and who’s where, we’ve amassed all the tidbits you should know about Egypt’s outstanding plans for a better educational future, beginning in September of this year.
Starting them out Young
Early childhood development centre, Kom Ombo, Egypt. | AKDN / Christopher Wilton-Steer
A key cornerstone of the Ministry’s massive undertaking is to not only educate the masses, but to create functional, thinking and creative human beings from the get-go. This is aptly reflected in the new system’s focus on completely revamping younger students’ teaching systems and curricula; kindergarten and primary education systems will not include actual subjects such as mathematics or sciences, but rather educating children to understand the most basic concepts of the world around them, and those of human communication, creativity, critical thinking as well as a modicum of art education. Though the relevant details haven’t been fleshed out as of this article, students starting from KG1 all the way to Primary 6 will learn about topics both general and particular; they could learn about climate change or natural phenomenon as much as they’ll learn how to properly formulate an argument, or deductive thinking. The first five years are considered to be the most crucial in a child’s educational process, and although typical subjects matter, learning how to function like a proper human takes precedent.
Though it may have been announced that Azhari education may have been in the works to be part of the new governmental education revamp, it is actually a false or misconstrued statement, as stated by the Dr. Abas Shoman – Al Azhar’s Chief Spokesman. Instead, there are plans to somehow merge it with kindergarten, or to offer its teachings as a separate educational path. Details remain to be in the dark as of now.
Tweens to Teens
Female students at a secondary school in Assiut (Photo: Tarek Abdel Galil).
Previously, one would need a minimum of at least a preparatory degree to be able to gain access to the most basic of legal employment, but thanks to the new system, a secondary degree is now a necessity if one were to pursue even entry level work.
On the topic of preparatory education, it as this point that students may gain access to standard subjects, but with a slight twist; students will have a currently undisclosed number of both mandatory and optional courses or subjects, while secondary students will have access to 4 mandatory courses and 4 optional ones. The courses and subjects themselves will be a fair bit more varied than your average fare; introducing programming languages – an essential skill in this day and age – as well as theatre, media, arts and the 4th industrial revolution.
As for exams, secondary students will no longer have to go through the unreasonable ordeal that is a singular, career-defining set of exams. Instead, students will be examined 12 times throughout the three years of secondary education, at a rate of four sets of exams each year. Passing a minimum of six sets of exams will guarantee a student’s success, based on an average score between the six sets of exams out of a total of 410. An exception to this new system is the very first batch of new secondary students in the coming school year; where only 4 sets of exams will be averaged.
Out with the Old, in with the New
In a solid effort to push the currently stagnant educational process effectively into the 21st century, the Ministry of Education plans to completely phase out physical schoolbooks; the last of which, supposedly, will be released for secondary students of the coming school year. In their stead, a supposed one million modern tablets – each costing about $150 – will be issued to all students as well as teachers, complete with a renewed and customized set of curricula, with a similar set of contents to those of Finnish and Japanese curricula, as well as material from the American Library of Congress. Curricula as well as the exams themselves will come from a central knowledge bank that will be constantly monitored, evaluated and renewed by a committee of qualified educational personnel within the Ministry of Education.
The new tablets came at a cost of around three billion EGP, meant to be a simpler, more intuitive means of learning rather than a saving grace. Schools will also supposedly be outfitted with high-speed Internet connections to compliment the tablets, as well as provide students with fluid access to whatever material they need, within reason. Though this may sound like it eliminated the need to be present within the confines of the schools, that’s not the case; students with a high enough absence record will be disqualified from entering any exams.
On the topic of exams; secondary examinations will be entirely randomized from school to school, eliminating the occurrence of any exam leaks or possible foul play. Exam questions will come from a constantly renewed and revised databank from the Ministry, in addition to the fact that they’ll be following an open book format due to their more analytical nature. Though students will have access to whatever material they need as well as standard textbooks, there will hardly be any memorization or standardized answers, the questions will depend on the student’s ability to think, rather than recite.
Old Dogs, New Tricks
With all these interesting reforms in mind, the plague-like phenomenon of students being forced to take private lessons should no longer be a thing; given how there will no longer be any model answers, seeing as the exams are all randomized and built on the principles of problem solving and actually using your noggin. Since private instructors and centres mainly rely on drilling answers into students’ heads instead of, you know, actually teach them something useful.
Speaking of teachers; thanks to the recently inaugurated “Teachers First” in February of this year, around 17,000 have gone through three months of intensive, modern training aimed at modifying their approach to teaching for the better, owing to a programme set forth by UNESCO. The Ministry aims to train about 523,000 teachers throughout the course of the new system.
The new system isn’t just speculation, nor is it too good to be true; this has the full support of President AbdelFattah El-Sisi, in cooperation with the World Banks – who’ve boosted the effort with a record $500 million so far, with plans to boost funding to a full billion USD soon enough. Though this system only pertains to pre-university education, we’re hoping that higher education also gets a formidable revamp in the future. In any case, here’s hoping Egypt’s future generations can pick up the pace better than we did by 2030.
Main Photo: Egyptian students attend a secondary school class at the 'Futures Tech' private school in Cairo on October 23, 2013.