Unchaining the Egyptian mind

29-08-2015 01:01 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

Finally, three months after President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi set off the call for renewing the Islamic religious address, matters are starting to shape up on that front after an initial phase of obstinacy and stalling by religious leaders. At first these leaders attempted to get around the matter by claiming they had to defend the ‘constants of Islam’; today they are responding and heeding the call. They speak of ‘renewing the religious address not doing away with it’ and ‘purging heritage not invalidating it’. They also talk of the need for an address that would be compatible with modern human thought, the outcome of centuries of evolution of human knowledge, that would take us out of narrow mono-dimensional thought to the broad realm of plurality.

So the ‘taboo’ is at last being broken; ‘taboo’ here stands for liberating the mind. Under the pretext of faithfully following religious principles, minds have long been held captive to isolationist, domineering and hollow thought. Now that we are talking of liberating minds, the matter carries us into a realm much wider than renewing a religious address or placing ourselves under the custody or intellectual generosity of religious leaders. Liberating the mind should be the outcome of a full educational process that produces Egyptians capable of grasping and coming to terms with modern values and variables, while at the same time immune to ever allowing religious leaders to go back to hijacking Egyptian minds. I believe this to be Egypt’s prime national project, notwithstanding major political and economic projects, and the biggest challenge facing Egyptians. As such, it warrants rallying all the forces of the State and the people behind it.

An education system that aims at liberating the Egyptian mind to venture into critical thinking can only be achieved through long-term planning. Egyptians should end up capable of actively contributing to human knowledge not merely content to be at the receiving end. They should learn that there is no absolute truth; matters are relative and nothing can be considered a fact without standing the test of extensive validation.

We are all the time bombarded with talk about modernising the Egyptian education system. Yet the attempts are restricted to building schools, playgrounds, and facilities; or to upgrading curricula and books to conform to recent developments. We seldom hear of endeavours to reshape or liberate minds; this applies equally to students and teachers. I am well aware that such a feat demands relentless efforts and long-term planning; the current education system should be phased out gradually, otherwise we risk suffering shock effect. The process has to take time but we must begin.
We could learn from other countries which have already gone miles into modernising their education systems. First, the making of a good teacher—the education service provider—depends primarily on liberating his or her mind. Teachers should no longer consider the information they offer their students absolute or non-negotiable. They should strive to become brilliant at stimulating dialogue and provoking students’ suspicion, argumentativeness and scrutiny, while guiding them to different sources of knowledge to look for and confirm information. The result: open-minded teachers not confined to the strict boundaries of books and curricula, capable of stimulating students and setting off their eagerness to learn. We also get students capable of scrutiny, discussion, and research; students who are active contributors to their own education and not mere containers to be filled with pre-prepared input. Both poles of the education process—the teacher and students—would be liberated, their perspective rendered multi-dimensional, their creativity and innovation unleashed.

I am no education expert, so I place my ideas in the hands of those who are capable in that field. I believe we must embark on an education revolution and make use of the experience of others who preceded us in modernising their education systems. They did not sleep on their laurels believing they are immune to retardation; they rebelled against stagnation by unchaining their minds.

Watani International
30 August 2015

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