Problems on hold
A sizable portion of Egyptian young men and women are currently in the throes of a seasonal dilemma, that of applying to universities and anxiously awaiting acceptance or rejection. The results of Thanawiya Amma examinations are out and, the score being the only criterion according to which a student may gain entry to most universities in Egypt, tensions run high in Egyptian homes. Thanawiya Amma is the secondary school diploma that certifies a young man or woman has successfully passed the Egyptian 12-year education programme. Given that places in universities are much fewer than the number of students who passed their Thanawiya Amma exams, the competition for a place in a university of choice is fierce. With parents anxious for their children to get the best education and prepare for the future of their dreams, the issue most discussed at the moment is that of the Egyptian education system and its long called-for reform. For decades on end, talk was rife on the need to reform the education system that culminates with Thanawiya Amma. Yet when a progressive plan was outlined by a visionary Minister of Education, it was met with heated controversy. A bitter conflict erupted between the State, represented by Education Minister Tarek Shawki, and conservative Egyptian parents of Thanawiya Amma students, who hold on to the education system of old. Having failed to grasp the strategy of the education reform programme, many Egyptian parents turned sceptical of reform altogether, and prepared to strike at anything or everything in the new system.
I totally agree with Dr Shawki’s vision for education reform in Egypt, and appreciate his policy towards that end. I also understand his endeavors to apply this policy nationwide, in all Egypt’s schools simultaneously. Yet I wonder: was the wholesale policy too much too soon? Are all issues pertaining to that policy under control? Did the Minister check all the elements of the nationwide reform policy before the new system was launched? The response of education experts, parents and students to the first application of the new, reformed education system had been divergent; some welcomed and applauded it whereas others could not grasp it, and rejected it. But almost everyone agreed on one thing: the reform was rushed; it would have been infinitely better if it had been tested and applied in stages instead of the wide-scale application.
The components of an education system are the school and its facilities; the teacher; the curriculum and elements related to it such as books, libraries, research facilities, and evaluation and exams. At the heart of the system lies its core target: the student. Students are backed by parents who ought to be given due consideration so that they would add value to their children’s education instead of acting as obstacles to the system.
With these elements in mind, let us look into the new reformed, modernised education system, and see how far was every element prepared for its implementation.
Admittedly, the elements in question are not of equal standing everywhere in Egypt. Schools diverge widely from one spot to another regarding their facilities and the services they offer. There also exists a disturbing variance in the standard and qualifications of teachers, as well as huge gaps between students in different places regarding their grasp on the curriculum and textbook development, and modern technological tools that have become indispensable to education, such as the Tablet, Internet, and modern technology. Not any less important is the role of parents, many among whom stand confused and wary of the new system. No matter how much they are told of the benefits of the new system and the inevitability of education reform, their unfamiliarity with it and their apprehension of its outcome stand in the way of welcoming it or collaborating with it.
The problem is not with the determination to reform and develop the education system; it is with the uncalculated venture to indiscriminately apply the reformed system to all Egyptian schools at once. What if only a sample of schools would be selected for application of the new system, on an experimental level? The results achieved by these sample schools would show the development and modernisation achieved, and the calibre of students produced. This would act as the greatest publicity for the new system, and would reassure other schools, students, and parents. Accordingly, once the new educational system is applied to more schools, we would be confident that all that components of the system: schools, curricula, teachers, students, and parents would be well prepared.
We are before a national objective that can no longer be delayed, compromised, or attacked and branded a failure just because the programme was implemented with haste. There is nothing wrong with going back on decisions if it proves wiser to implement education reform in stages in order to ensure success and sustainability.