Education is a major challenge we must promptly address if we are serious about development, modernity and the establishment of a true civic State. I broach the issue every so often, seeing it is so loaded with predicaments. I tackled before the urgent need for building new schools everywhere in Egypt in order to absorb the rising numbers of pupils every new school year. The growing numbers are the natural outcome of the country’s accelerating population growth, also the commendable increased public awareness of the importance of education equally for boys and girls. I addressed too the specifications of school buildings and grounds, and what they should include to cater to the needs of the education process. I acknowledge that the General Authority for Educational Buildings has now in place sound specifications for every component of school premises; this includes classrooms, utilities, activity premises, courts and open spaces, creating a balanced proportion between the school area and all other school elements.
I tackled the issue of schoolbooks and curricula, and stressed the importance of benefiting from the skills and know-how of experts to update and develop them. I explained that the aim was to refine the look and content of schoolbooks, so as to appeal to pupils and facilitate the learning and education process. I also called for encouraging pupils to go beyond the confines of schoolbooks and rigid curricula to the wider world of knowledge and research. School libraries should offer excellent resources for such ventures; pupils and students should learn to use them to look up information and answer questions and doubts. This would nurture in pupils a dynamic eagerness to learn, comprehend, and research in order to get to the bottom of matters, rather than succumb to mere rote learning.
I also discussed the development of the teacher, which I considered the most important component in the renaissance of education. Though there have been remarkable leaps in the numbers and quality of schools in Egypt, and in the enhancement of books and curricula, teacher skills remain at a standstill. We should realise that a teacher’s attitude has the potential of ruining all efforts at education reform, no matter how advanced the school premises or books are. If teachers persist in upholding old, archaic concepts of cramming pupils’ minds with the content of schoolbooks, and rejecting their questions or doubts as breaches of discipline, there can be no hope for modern education for our children.
Today I broach another education-related issue that some might consider trivial, but others see as crucial. By this I mean the schoolbags pupils carry on their backs as they go to school. These heavyweight bags surpass all acceptable limits and have become a nightmarish experience for pupils, sufficient to make them resent the school experience altogether. These heavy schoolbags that our children and grandchildren carry day in day out are taking their toll on the wellbeing and backs of our little ones.
I find it very strange that education officials merely look on and offer no real solution to the schoolbag problem, as though they have not the slightest realisation of its seriousness or its physical and psychological aftermath. Very few schools in Egypt—and these are the schools of the more affluent sector of the community, definitely a minority—offer their pupils lockers in which to keep their school books and copybooks, so they might leave there the material they do not directly need and carry home only what is necessary. This contributes reasonably to reducing the weight of the schoolbag. However no such luxury exists in public schools where the cramped space leaves no opportunity to install lockers. Pupils thus have to travel with all their school material back and forth day in day out.
What if experts divide every schoolbook into three or four independent smaller booklets? This way the pupil would only carry each relevant booklet at a time, until the part of the syllabus it is concerned with is covered, then shift to the following booklet. Simultaneously copybooks could also be thus divided. This would result in a substantial reduction of the weight of the schoolbag to a third or a quarter of what it is now, and ease the burden on the backs of our youngsters.
I am not suggesting the cancellation of any part of the syllabuses, mind you; I only propose dividing each syllabus into three or four parts. Sooner or later, however, the entire learning process and homework assignments will go electronic, and research will eventually replace schoolbooks.
23 October 2016