Egypt’s new education system to focus on technology, research

It took Education Ministry experts years to formulate the new system, making use of methods used in Japan, Singapore and elsewhere.
Sunday 24/06/2018
School children attend a class at the Talaat Harb government primary school in the popular district of Shubra in Cairo. (AP)
Moribund sector. School children attend a class at the Talaat Harb government primary school in the popular district of Shubra in Cairo. (AP)

CAIRO - Egypt is preparing to implement a new education system at secondary schools that aims to end decades of rote learning and institute a new focus on technology. The new system, which will be enforced as of the academic year in September, will scrap Egypt’s focus on textbook answers and incentivise independent research.

“The system will eradicate the old education system’s ailments by turning the pupils from passive recipients into active participants in the educational process,” said Ahmed Khairy, a spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Education, which controls the schools, designs the curricula and prints textbooks. “We are going for a total change of the educational process, instead of introducing minor changes,” he said.

It took Education Ministry experts years to formulate the new system, making use of aspects of education systems in use in Japan, Singapore and elsewhere. Instead of textbooks, the Ministry of Education will give the pupils electronic tablets to use in their studies. The tablets will have a high-speed internet connection to encourage the students to search the web for information.

Egypt hopes it can revive its moribund education sector by applying the new system quickly and equipping a new generation of students with much-needed skills. Egypt’s education system decayed during a time when education innovations were utilised in other Arab countries.

Until the 1980s, Egypt’s education system was considered one of the best in the region. Egypt was known for sending doctors, engineers and teachers across the region. However, with education deteriorating and Egypt’s schools failing to keep up with advances around the world, Egypt’s expat workers are more likely to be drivers or construction workers.

The new education system aims to change that. Education Minister Tarek Shawqi said the new system would make education fun, eradicate suffering of pupils, especially those in the final year of secondary school education and give the schools more authority in deciding exam questions.

“This is how we will end exam question leaking and cheating,” Shawqi told the private Sada al-Balad TV. “The system will also put an end to private lessons.”

Leaking of exam questions the last three years was a headache for the Education Ministry. Questions that would appear on the Thanaweya Amma exams — the standardised tests that lead to the General Secondary Education Certificate and serve as entrance exams for Egypt’s public universities — were published on social media before the exams.

To preserve the security of the exams, the Education Ministry has asked the army to deliver examination papers to schools nationwide.

The new system will seek to address the issue of private lessons, something that has become commonplace for almost all Egyptian secondary school students. Independent estimates say Egyptians spend $1.7 billion annually on private lessons.

Shawqi said there would be no standardised secondary school graduation (Thanaweya Amma) exams this year but a different exam for each school. Exam questions for each school, he said, would not be decided by teachers but by a committee of experts.

School pupils will be allowed to take print materials to the examinations with them. The new exams will not be focused on rote learning but in demonstrating an understanding of topics covered during the school year, Khairy said.

“This is how we will end cheating and the leaking of examination questions,” he said.

Khairy said teachers would be unable to coerce students to take private lessons, given that they would not have direct influence over examination questions.

The new education system has been a subject of debate in Egypt where approximately 19 million pupils are enrolled in the country’s 45,000 state-owned schools and 7,000 private ones.

By abolishing textbooks, the new education system will spare Egypt the huge amounts of money it spends on printing them. In the 2017-18 academic year, the government spent $68 million to print 300 million textbooks.

“The new system will also put an end to the national suffering, that is the Thanaweya Amma examinations,” said Ibrahim Shahin, a senior official of the Educational Syndicate, the independent union of Egypt’s teachers.

Students preparing for the Thanaweya Amma examinations are known to have to deal with a large amount of stress, given that the standardised tests determine what universities they can attend and what subjects they can take. The new system will alter pupils’ assessments and put an end to the Thanaweya Amma.

Secondary school pupils will have to sit for 12 exams during the three years of the secondary stage. The pupils’ final grade will be based on the highest marks they score in six of the 12 tests.

The new system hopes, the Education Ministry said, to improve Egypt’s educational rating and bring international recognition to its school certificates. However, the plan faces several hurdles, including financing. It will cost Egypt $2 billion to implement the new system. The World Bank has agreed to provide $500 million for the project over the next five years but it is unclear where the rest of the money will come from.

The Education Ministry will distribute 1 million computer tablets to pupils for free in September. The ministry will have to overhaul technological infrastructure at Egypt’s schools to provide internet access.

Education experts also refer to the need for training the country’s more than 1 million schoolteachers in the use of educational technologies and the new system.

“The teachers need to adapt to the new system, or its implementation will stumble,” said education expert Mahabat Abu Omeira. “There is also a need for ensuring that the technological tools that will be used in the new system will work or a minor glitch can disconnect hundreds of thousands of pupils and teachers from the whole process.”