Reverend Mohsen Mounir, Secretary-General of the Synod of the Nile Schools, is a man who combines the spirituality of the cleric with the science of management. With 23 schools,
many of which are language schools, on the list of the Synod of the Nile, Rev. Mounir is very well positioned to talk about the issue of education in Egypt, which is undoubtedly an issue of utmost importance, one that is the focus of almost every family in Egypt.
Watani talked to Rev. Mounir.
Do you think that diversity of schools in Egypt—where there are State schools, private schools, language schools and international schools—is causing problems, especially nonconformity, among Egyptians?
The need for educational diversity was created by the need for quality education which owing to multiple factors is not offered in government schools. Not least among these factors is the population explosion that propels huge numbers of extra students into schools every year and which cannot be matched by the country’s limited means and resources,
Egyptians do not reject diversity in education, and this is not in error. In fact, it serves the country on many levels.
Does such a system exist outside Egypt?
Even though the dire need for an alternative education system may not exist as severely as in Egypt, all Western—and most non-Western countries—have private schools which offer quality education for those who seek it. We have to bear in mind that good education is very costly, and subsequently is not within everyone’s or every government’s means. This is a fact that the world is still struggling with and to which it has found no easy answer.
But private education depends mainly on the ability of parents to pay for it. The poor can never afford quality education.
Economic means is an important dimension in education, but the desire for quality education drives people to attempt to achieve it. It is a fact in Egypt that the middle class prioritises education on the family budget. The result is that they budget on several fronts, but not on paying for the education of their children.
What do you think of the claim that ‘free education’ is just a lie?
It is a lie owing to the phenomenon of private lessons, which makes education very costly.
Some universities offer scholarships to students who excel but do not have the means to pay for it. Do the Evangelical Schools think of doing the same thing to help poorer students?
The idea already exists, but we are studying the mechanism to make it possible and successful. If you choose five out of 1,000 students, it is not effective in real terms.
What in your opinion is the most serious problem in education?
In my opinion the problem lies in the method, which is more important than content. I tried a non-traditional method of education with my daughter who studied languages at a Cairo school, and the result was much better than the average. The method enhances skills of research and analysis more than just rote learning.
Some people believe that the Catholic schools instil better discipline and deeper spirituality than Evangelical schools. How do you see this?
Monks and nuns have always been famous for their spirituality and discipline, which reflects on their schools. As far as education is concerned, however, I believe there is no difference between both types of schools.
Do you think that there is any difference between the Christian schools and the Azhari schools?
The comparison does not stand. The similarity is that both belong to religious establishments, but Christian schools are open to all, while al-Azhar schools and institutes are restricted to the enrolment of Muslims.
Our schools are not religious. Our history witnesses that our service is offered to the community as a whole, which makes the difference. Over the years, our schools have propagated a major progressive and cultural leap in the communities in which they were established, and our graduates have occupied prestigious positions in the government or public or private sector, or went on to have successful careers as professionals.
We have chapels in our schools, but we do have a place for Muslims to pray in every one of our schools. We consider the spiritual and moral aspects to be vital elements in the education process.
The excellence of your schools creates an annual race by parents to enrol their children, so why do you not expand and establish new schools?
The problem lies in financing. To establish a school that is up-to-date with modern technology is expensive; [paying for] the land and the furnishing is difficult.
I agree with you that there is a need in some governorates, for instance Minya in Upper Egypt, but we don’t have the means.
If you had the facilities for construction, would you build a church or a school?
If that place has no church, I would build a church. But if there is even one small church, I would prefer to build a school.
On the level of current events, how do you see Egypt’s new Constitution?
After a profound reading of the Constitution, I believe it is the best charter that could have been written under the current circumstances. As for the item concerning education, it is great that a specific and generous portion of the GDP has been allocated for education and health.
How do you see the terrorist operations executed by the Muslim Brothers in Egypt?
Frankly speaking, we are facing terrorism in every sense of the word. This should come as no surprise since the founder, Hassan al-Banna, explicitly cited in his “Fifth Message” to the group the use of violence “to achieve change”. It is also a well known fact that members are sworn into the group with one hand on the Qur’an and the other on a gun.
9 February 2014