Basic Education Reforms in Egypt
Background of the Study
Several young people in Egypt took to the street demanding for democratic reform in January and February 2011. This movement overthrew long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak. The movement occurred due to the frustration caused by the critically underfunded and extremely overcrowded higher education system. Additionally, the labor market had insufficient job opportunities; meaning that only approximately forty percent of the university graduates could find job. The youth in Egypt demanded changes. Unfortunately, the educational reforms have been delayed. Some of the reforms have been developed, however the implementation process has been unsatisfactory due to the unending political, economic and social unrest. This factor, among others, has compelled many people to search for educational opportunities overseas and has highly discouraged students from other parts of the world to attend higher education institutions in Egypt. Traditionally, Egyptian institutions were popular among international students.
The reformers are in agreement that Egyptian education system has to focus on critical thinking, problem solving and innovation as compared to the current rote memorization. Setting this as a goal, there have been unprecedented efforts made by the Egyptian government in a bid to reform the basic educational system. Additionally, regardless of the glaring political risk of Egypt, the government has been receptive to the low-profile international expertise. However, the sustainability of the educational reforms is uncertain due to a variety of reasons; size of the system, inherent resistance to reforms in a centralized authoritarian system of governance and fragility of the political legitimacy of the government due to deviation from the social agreement made with the public. The reform benefits will be observable after some period of time and the subsequent impact can only be experienced over medium to long term due to the size of the educational system, its breadth and depth and speed of the reforms. The main challenge is the ability to follow the course. The main question is what reforms have been already effected and which reforms are still needed for improvement of the basic education system in Egypt. This paper will analyze the reforms that have been carried out and those which are still required to improve the basic education system of Egypt.
In Egypt, the pre-university education system is in a difficult situation. An average school teacher earns approximately $ 200 a month. The pre-university level system enrolls more than 16 million students, out of which 1.7 million individuals are employed, and 1 million are teachers. The total public expenditure on education is considered high, according to the international standards, and it keeps increasing. However, expenditure is decreasing as a proportion of the entire Egyptian Government budget. Investment in education as a percentage of GDP fell to 3.7 percent, yet the cost of private education, including private tutoring, tuition fees, school uniforms, textbooks and other supplies, has been increasing for more than a decade. Due to the heavy public investment in the past decade, the Egyptian government has been able to increase enrollment rates, which is considered remarkable even without an increase in the student population. Enrollment in primary education is almost universal for both genders and the enrollment in secondary and tertiary education is increasing. Additionally, the pace at which the gender gap is closing is impressive and at the same time historic. Moreover, enrollment in higher education is increasing at an impressive pace. Educational outcomes in Egypt are, on average, reasonable for the country’s level of economic development, but less so given the high level of both private and public investment. The outcomes are also extremely unequal; these facts clearly outline the disparities in socioeconomic status across students but also likely disparity in the quality of schools.
Youssry El Gamal, Minister of Education, was appointed in 2005 and one of his top priorities was the development of a national education strategy for 2007 - 2011. The strategy was developed with the aid of USAID’s technical team. The designed strategy was designed in a broad-based manner, encouraging participation of donors and civil society. In 2006, El Gamal and USAID agreed on a policy reform agenda that addressed policy and institutional obstacles to improving the quality of education. The agenda, which served as the basis of a money transfer initiative, launched that year, included: establishment of a professional Teacher’s Cadre and transformation of administrative roles to teaching ones; reduction in the number of textbooks; eradication of the use of the ninth grade test, which had been traditionally used to track two thirds of all students into technical secondary institutions; enhanced private involvement in the publishing and production of textbooks in order to improve quality; and establishment of collaboration of public and private sectors in the construction and the long term physical management of public schools.
Additional reforms of the Egyptian Government apart from the cash transfer initiative include: decentralization of school finances and administration to the district level, school accreditation and revision of the secondary completion test and the admission process in the institutions of higher education.
Crowding Out of the Poor
The education reform program of Egypt is tailored to resolve challenges posed by the current system for the Egyptian economy and government. First, the extra private tuition required by students in order to be successful so as to compensate for the already overcrowded classes and for low teaching standards drives out the poor. Second, the Muslim Brotherhood is increasingly influential within the education sector in both private and public schools in offering a more basic and significant education. Finally, there is a fundamental disassociation between the skills of graduates at every level and the demands of the private sector. This is evident from the country’s low rankings on the quality of education in the economic competitiveness reports.
Human Resource Crisis
In 2006, the Minister of Education had approximately 1.7 million employees. Out of those, 700,000 were civil servants and service workers spread across Egypt. The other 1 million were divided almost equally between administrators and teachers. The ratio of administrators to teachers was 1: 1.2. The teaching-non-teaching ratio is one of the highest in the world. Comparing this ratio to that one of Jordan, where there is one administrator for four teachers; the OECD average is 8:1. Moreover, teachers in Egypt earn the least in the region in comparison with GDP per capita. Under the existing salary structure, the administrator jobs was the only channel for higher salaries for teachers who were paid salaries starting from LE 1,000. Finally, the average ratios of teachers to students are 40:1 in fifty percent of schools in the country. However, according to a report, this ratio reaches 80 or 100:1 in the slum areas of Cairo.
In a bid to resolve these imbalances, the Egyptian government pushed the Teacher's Cadre law through Parliament in 2007. This new directive, in its initial phase, provided teachers with a fifty percent increase in their salary, however, the teachers were demanded to take qualification tests. When the law was passed, approximately half a million administrators claimed they were teachers so as to benefit from the salary increase. Regardless of the strong resistance from the teachers to the idea of competency tests, 830,258 out of the 1,064,742 individuals eligible to take the tests were examined in different fields in January 2008. In total, sixty two different examinations were administered to the teachers depending on expertise and grade level. Eighty-five percent had passed the examinations and, depending on their scores and experience, they were assigned to one of five ranks in the new Teacher’s Cadre. This activity sent a strong signal to teachers of the intention of the Egyptian government to improve quality of teaching. The Ministry of Education was also able to significantly decrease the number of administrators at specific schools so as to bring higher and better qualified teachers to classrooms.
The Textbooks in the Curriculum Reform
The Ministry of Education is tasked with publishing operation and the Government owns two extra public sector publishers. The books produced have always been a source of corruption. Thus, the publishers and ministry bureaucrats have benefitted from the massive purchases of costly and low quality books. It has been noted that with the increase of student enrollment by 3 percent from 1999 to 2005, the production of books rose by 15 percent and the textbook printing budget increased by 63 percent. The increasing demand for books occurs because of the unregulated Government procedures or the authorization of provision of resources to the school system. In 2006, the Ministry of Education purchased 450 million new books for more than 16 million students at a cost of approximately LE 1 billion. This made the Minister to address the crisis and since then the quantity of new textbook purchases has been reduced to 335 million. Simultaneously, with the aid of USAID, the Minister agreed to outsource publishing and production of books to the private sector. The Ministry is revamping its textbook procurement procedures and increasing private and international participation in the process of publishing and production.
The Egyptian Government has succeeded in the use of accreditation mechanism in order to improve the quality of education. In 2006 a few laws were passed creating an accreditation system for universities. The USAID has utilized a program of awarding school teams to raise the awareness of the national educational standards via a nationwide competition in the primary schools. However, this means of improving educational quality in the schools seems to be more punitive rather than motivational with regard to school improvement. This is not a long-term solution approach to the pre-university education.
There is strong public consensus that the country’s education system is inefficient and its quality should be improved. However, there are major players in the process who limit the minister’s effectiveness and freedom for maneuvering. The government has been unable to collaborate and this poses a challenge to the reforms. It is important to note that the actors see the need for strong private financial aid and involvement in the school-based reform. Additionally, they understand the civil society’s role in the involvement in education. However, views of some key actors appear to be more controlling and patronizing rather than participative and consultative. Thus, this approach is unlikely to foster the required reforms.
Glimmering Hope of the School-based Reforms
USAID, UNICEF and the Canadian International Development Association have been able to make substantial gains in supporting the Ministry of Education in its efforts to promote school-based reforms via the adjustments in pedagogy, examination, school management and parent involvement and early grade reading among others. Donors are providing support to the pedagogical changes in more than 400 schools to involve the students more actively in their studies. USAID funded program offers rewards to the excellent teachers depending on the national competition results in all 16, 000 primary schools, thus supporting reforms in pedagogy, school management and student achievement. USAID has provided school libraries summing up to nearly 25 million books to all 39,000 public K-12 institutions. Reading camps have been springing up to address the fundamental challenges associated with the early grade reading of Arabic and the general literacy in the country. USAID has been able to convene the donors and the civil society, including the key players in the education system so as to share the best practices regarding the school based reform. The only remaining challenge is scaling up and diffusion of innovation across the education system.
It is difficult to discuss democracy of Egypt or its sustained economic growth without bumping up against the educational system crisis. The system is large, overstaffed with lowly qualified workers, corrupt and centralized. The system has multiple masters with competing political agenda. However, there are glimmers of hope. The Egyptian government should be praised for taking the political risk related to the implementation of the Teacher’s Cadre personnel reforms. The Minister of Education has been receptive to discreet, high quality professional technical support. The minister and the team are committed to decentralization and are willing to experiment. The Ministry of Education has made very tough choices regarding textbooks and the tracking of students. Also, the micro-reforms at the school level are taking root and spreading to other institutions and districts. The stakes for the country in addressing the shortfalls of the education system in terms of economic and political development are huge, but the outcome will be mainly observed only in the future. However, the main challenge of the education system to the reformers is to follow the course.
Development of numbers of teachers in basic education 1991-1999
|Stage||Total no. in 1991||Total no. in 1999||Increase Percentage|
|One Class Room||658||3794||476.6%|
Source: The EFA 2000 Assessment: Country Reports
The table above indicates the development of teachers in basic education from the year 1991 through to 1999. This reflects an interest in quality education in the basic system through increasing the ratio of teachers to cater for the growing number of pupils.