If Egypt is to move on the path of major changes to attain a better future, and education reform leads the list, this reform should go past the traditional curriculum, textbooks and school building improvement; most important is the capacity building of teachers. In absence of a good teacher, no aspect of education reform can work. The teacher will always act as the tie between the education system and the student’s mind. No matter how modern or state-of-the-art it is, the teacher is the only one who can make the education system a success or failure, depending on how he or she relays it in the classroom.
We live in times where science and technology, knowledge, discovery and invention, and consequently almost every aspect of life, develop at a frightfully rapid pace. Some two decades ago, Education Minister Hussein Kamel Bahaa’ Eddin commented on that accelerating evolution of science, by saying that the generation of the first half of the 20th century needed to master the knowledge they were given in school to gain singular professional distinction. The generation of the second half of the 20th century needed to gain specialised knowledge in a given branch and keep themselves perpetually updated on the continuous development in their field of specialisation for them to excel in it. Otherwise, Dr Bahaa’ Eddin said, they would be driven out of competition. In case of the generation of the 21st century, the former Minister said, the outlook is almost scary; a good part of the dose of the scientific data they will have been given in school might very well be outdated by the time they join the career or labour market.
Dr Bahaa’ Eddin concluded that the education system must rely on building the mind rather than filling it up with information. It should foster an alert, dynamic mind capable of searching for and processing information rather than adhering to rigid, non-questionable givens. The creative mind jumps over hurdles and does not shy away from turning ‘dreams’ into on-the-ground tangibles. Sadly, however, Dr Bahaa’ Eddin was not able to realise his vision for education during his time in office.
Today, the flabbergasting pace of development in the information technology and communications field alone is live evidence to the validity of the former minister’s view; no one can fully appreciate his vision as much as generations who grew up on rote learning as my own did some four decades ago.
In today’s Egypt, the challenge is to embark on a new education system. All we hear today of developing education promises no more than the cloning of a good textbook or a distinguished professor. This is no longer sufficient, since the challenge is to liberate the mind from the confines of textbooks or mentalities of professors no matter how exceptionally good they may be. We need our children to realise the difference between being handed information on a silver platter, and going the thrilling journey of researching it through doubt and exploration and, finally, plausible answers.
What is needed toady is a textbook that does not merely cite scientific information, but rather includes the basic elements of scientific knowledge and refers the student to a number of questions and variables the answers of which he or she should themselves seek in other, wider sources. The relation between student and teacher should be more dedicated to discussing possibilities, alternatives and research routes. Such routines can work to develop the mind by endowing it with diversity in vision and opinion, as well as a capacity to tolerate and accept differences since nothing is predetermined or absolute.
The beauty of science lies not in mono-dimensional vision but in the unlimited horizons that unfold and the plethora of hypotheses open to research. Perpetual dynamism allows an ongoing process of reaching new depths of knowledge, accessing hitherto unheard-of facts, and updating current theories.
Our human legacy includes the diatribes of philosophers and scientists, famously of the Alexandrian School and the Renaissance, and through to today’s Space Era proving beyond doubt that the human mind knows no confines. The human mind should be allowed to roam freely, beyond any fear or controls, to attain enlightenment. This is a process that begins in kindergarten.
26 October 2014