Education reform: demanding the impossible?
North Sinai school - YOUM7 (Archive)

CAIRO: “Education is not a priority for the government, as indicated by the national projects announced that require cheap manual labor, rather than inventiveness and compound thinking,” Abdel Hafiz Tayel, head of the Egyptian Center for Education Rights, told The Cairo Post Monday.

Minister of Education Mahmoud Abou el-Nasr told Sada el-Balad channel Monday that his ministry’s budget has been raised to 87 billion EGP ($12.2 billion,) however, 90 percent of it goes to wages.

“The government spends on education as much as it wants from it. It wants students who memorize information without room for creativity, and this is reflected in the nature of its centralized exams. It wants subjugated students who are happy with the president’s picture hanged in every classroom,” Tayel said.

The 2014 constitution obliges the government to spend four percent of the budget on education.

In his interview with Sada el-Balad, Abou el-Nasr said he is only “30 percent satisfied with the quality of education,” adding that while Egypt needs 20,000 schools in the next three years, the government has managed to allocate the funding of building over 10,000 schools up until 2017, which will mark a “new start for solid education.”

“Another indication of the government’s lack of keenness on education is that schools are built with aid money,” Tayel told The Cairo Post over the phone.

The minister told Al-Ahram newspaper Aug. 18 that the United Arab Emirates provided the Ministry of Education with $290 million to establish schools to reduce the overcrowded classrooms, which can hold more than 100 students in some schools.

Kuwait will fund the construction of 400 schools, and more schools will be funded by Egyptian businessmen, the Suez Canal Authority, and civil society organizations, such as Masr el-Kheir and the Food Bank, MENA reported in May.

“The political authority assumes power through illiterate people who form a large voting bloc. One government after another has benefited from illiteracy, for without illiteracy there would not be sectors like the Central Security Forces,” Tayel said.

Military conscription in Egypt is compulsory for males between 18 and 30 for up to three years. Those who have little education are often enrolled in the Central Security Forces, a large department of the Ministry of Interior, used to control riots and protests, and are usually the frontline of the police to counter any instability.

“Literacy will reduce female genital mutilation, early marriage, many forms of crime, and the unofficial economy. This will help the country’s economy, but unfortunately, this is not the government’s priority,” he added.

“Do not demand the impossible”

During the Teachers Day Monday celebration, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi said the state would “strongly stand behind education,” and on the occasion of building 1,150 schools thus far, he announced a competition to hire 30,000 assistant teachers.

“Teachers work in slavery-like conditions that make it impossible for anyone to succeed. [Schools] do not give them permanent contracts, and pay them very low salaries or no salaries at all under the guise of performing public service. The schools justify their actions on the premise that the teachers’ work is an opportunity to deliver private tutoring to students after school,” Tayel said.

When a reporter asked Sisi about private tuition on which many teachers almost entirely depend, the President said that “We will consider teachers and their wages in the coming period, but at the present time, do not demand the impossible. They have to work and stand by their countries in its hard times then ask for what they want.”

Sisi added if the government raises the salary of teachers to 1,000 EGP ($139.8) a month, it would need 18 billion EGP.

Tayel told The Cairo Post that the privatization of education began in 1998/1999, when the one-year obligatory commissioning of graduates of the Faculty of Education at public schools was canceled, making qualified teachers leave for work at private schools.

Poverty: Root cause of illiteracy

Greater Cairo, which consists of Cairo, Giza, Shubra el-Kheima and several cities on its outskirts, has an illiteracy rate of 15.9 as of July 2014, according to the Egyptian Authority for Educating Adults.

Asyut, an Upper Egyptian governorate, suffers the highest rate of illiteracy at 30.2 percent, whereas the Red Sea governorate has the lowest rate, at 6.8 percent.

Tayel said that these figures take us to “the root cause of illiteracy; poverty. Is there a government strategy to combat poverty?”

Greater Cairo has a high slum population, and uneducated countryside inhabitants migrate there in search for job opportunities, Tayel said, adding that it also has an abundance of child labor demands, a main reason for school dropouts because families force their children to earn money.

Cairo governorate alone comprises 33 percent of all deprived areas in the country, Governor of Cairo Galal Mostafa announced in June. The Ministry of Planning and the Ministry of Urban Development have bid to develop slums on several occasions. The European Union signed funding contracts with the government to rehabilitate the slum residents.

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