The Ministry of Education continued its efforts to modernise the Egyptian education system by introducing new techniques in teaching and examining K-12 students. The new system, which Education Minister Tarek Shawki has been working on since 2018, emphasises students’ ability to undertake research and use technology rather than memorise and learn by rote.
In June’s Thanawaya Amma exams, rather than traditional essay questions, for the first time students answered a set of multiple-choice questions on bubble sheets, and were allowed to consult text books during the exam.
The students, who sat three trial online exams between April and June, were told days before the actual exams that they would be answering the questions using bubble sheets, a technique which they had never tried.
While 81.5 per cent of students passed their exams in 2019-20, last year the figure fell to 74 per cent. This year 154,000 students had to re-sit exams in one or two subjects, compared to 1,000 in the previous year. Lower grades this year have also led universities to reduce their minimum qualifications, in the case of medicine faculties from 97 per cent to 90.7 per cent. Around 500,000 students have complained about their grades and asked for regrading.
While Covid-19 impacted heavily on the 2020-21 school year, with many schools closing and families refusing to send their children to school for fear of their falling sick, the Education Ministry made it clear that 2021-22 would be a regular academic year. Teachers and school staff were required to be vaccinated before the beginning of the year, and in November it was agreed with the Ministry of Health that students aged between 15 and 18 be given the Pfizer vaccine.
Early in the year the 20 per cent on foreign ownership of private schools was removed in an attempt to attract investment to the sector. According to Reda Hegazi, deputy to the minister of education, LE130 billion is needed to establish new schools, an amount which the ministry’s budget falls well short of covering.
The education budget for the year 2020-21, says Hegazy, was LE157.58 billion, of which 94 per cent was spent on salaries.
Limited resources were reflected in images of students sitting on the floors of overcrowded classrooms that went viral at the beginning of the school year, placing Shawki under fire.
The Ministry of Education also says there is a nationwide shortage of 320,000 teachers across Egypt’s 57,000 schools, and announced in October it was hiring part-time teachers for the 2021-22 school year to make up for the shortage. Part-time applicants, who should be less than 50, will teach a maximum of 24 classes a week, and be paid LE20 per class.
In addition to using the Knowledge Bank and the YouTube educational channels, students now have access to three specialised television channels, Madrasetna (Our School) 1, 2 and 3. Launched in 2021, the channels cover the primary, preparatory, and secondary curricula.
Shawki revealed earlier this month that the three branches of the current Thanaweya Amma system — science, mathematics, and arts — will be merged into two by academic year 2022-23. “The science and mathematics sections will be joined, allowing all science students to obtain the mathematical knowledge required for their preferred university majors,” said Shawki.
The minister said the curricula will be changed in a number of subjects to avoid overburdening students. Dozens of MPs have tabled questions requesting details of the changes.
Meanwhile, on 7 December the cabinet approved amendments to Law 126/2006 penalising parents who fail to send their children to school. They could now face a fine of LE500-LE1,000, and their access to public services be curtailed should the offence be repeated.
Egypt’s constitution stipulates free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of six and 15.