In many countries, educational reform has been motivated by a variety of reasons generally aiming to address social adversities such as poverty and gender or class inequities. For a country like Egypt, there have been noted shortcomings in its recent history on all of these these fronts. Consequently, educational reform has become an urgent necessity.
Furthermore, the outburst of violence driven by religious divisions and extremism in the Middle East has made it a crucial challenge for the Egyptian state to have something to offer to its youth as an alternative to extremist ideologies. After all, the 30th of June revolution’s main goal was to overthrow the world’s biggest organised religious hate group the “Muslim Brotherhood”.
Under this target president Abdel Faffah El-Sisi formed Egypt’s Presidential Council for Education and Scientific Research in September 2014. “The idea behind such councils is based on creating harmony between experts, youth, the presidency and the government.” said Tarek Shawky, the current Education minister and then secretary-general of all specialized councils affiliated to the Egyptian presidency. So how did this council contribute to Egypt’s educational reform given the fact that we are reaching the end of 2017?
The presidential council in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and an international consultancy body named “Imagine Education” created a training programme for teachers named “Teachers First”. This programme was aimed at re-qualifying Egyptian teachers by increasing their skills in analyzing educational objectives in an innovative way, creating a better education environment, upgrading teachers’ student evaluating methodologies and shifting the focus on the student’s output more than the teacher’s input. In October 2016, the council celebrated graduating teachers for the first 100 schools. This programme has been funded by a national donation account called “Tahya Masr” which the president set up for national development in 2014.
In January 2016, the council launched the Egyptian Knowledge Bank (EKB). It is a huge online knowledge hub that gives students, researchers and the public free access to educational and scientific publications worldwide. The Council signed agreements with 26 international publishing houses, as part of this project. According to the Egyptian academy for science and technology press release, these publishing houses include National Geographic, Discovery, Cambridge, Oxford, Reuters and Britannica. This portal allows free access only to people inside the Egyptian territory and has four sub-portals, for children, students, researchers and general readers, to address a wide range of Internet users.
On 14th of November 2017, Tarek Shawky announced that the Ministry of Education is restructuring the whole educational system mentioning 7 highlights that included a 4GB tablet for each student, connecting educational curriculums to the knowledge bank (EKB), replacing high school grading system with a 3 year accumulation and creating an electronic file for each student.
According to al Watan newspaper, Shawky hopes to have a complete reform of the Egyptian Educational system in 12 yearsas the ministry is currently requalifying 10,000 teachers with the grand target of being able to produce an internationally competitive student in 50 years.
On a more socio-political front, the council has been working on reversing a political decision made by President Nasser, which has been in place since the 1950s and that contributed to the deterioration of university education quality in Egypt. Nasser, because he was seeking to increase his popularity, made university education free of charge for all high school graduates. Though the decision seemed appealing as it offered access to academic education for both the rich and the poor without limitations, the Egyptian government’s budget has not been able to cover its costs since, which has resulted in declining quality over the years.
The council is working on changing this strategy by setting a minimum GPA percentage of 75% for tuition exempted students, high school graduates who achieve less than 75% GPA will have to pay full tuition, according to a statement by Shawky published in Al Masry el Youm. Regarding the quality of higher Education, since 2015, the council has been devising, with the Ministry of Higher Education, a comprehensive development strategy that includes a new higher education law and a requalifying programme for university professors. Vocational training has not been overlooked either, in a statement to Al Ahram newspaper, Shawky said that the government has formed committees to restructure 152 higher vocational institutes for better results.
Shawky added that the council’s scope is not restricted to just technical and academic education as they also hold weekly training camps to concurrently teach executive leadership and creative thinking to 20 students per workshop from each university.
In December 2017, Saudi alarabiya.net published an article titled: “Why many Egyptians seem impressed by their new education minister.” In this article, the writer Shounaz Meky described Shawky by saying: “To many, his vision of linking passion to learning sounded like a message of hope – a hope they shared and expressed as something that could actually change in the country’s ailing education system.” It seems that with his introduction of modern methodologies, technologies and priorities, Shawky has successfully initiated the educational renaissance that is so clearly required.