The Middle East Observer had the pleasure of interviewing Prof. Nabil Fatahalla, for his reflections on the current developments of the education system in Egypt.
Prof. Nabil Fatahalla is an Emeritus Professor, Mechanical Department, Faculty of Engineering, Al-Azhar University, He had his Ph.D. from Research Institute for iron, Steel and Other Metals, Tohoku University, Sendai-Japan in 1980.He also worked as Consultant of El Nasr Company for Castings (governmental industrial company-general sector), located in Embaba-Giza-Egypt. Nominated as a Member of Board of Directors in General Metals Company (Governmental Industrial Company-General Sector) (1992-1996). Consultant of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (1991-1993). Consultant of the Japanese company “Dai-Nippon Construction” (1994-1996). Supervised the “Know-How” translation of founding the Ductile Iron factory in Embaba-Giza-Egypt. He is also a reviewer for Journal of Materials Science (JMSC) and Journal-Engineering Sciences, King Abdulaziz University
What were the reasons behind the deteriorating state of the Egyptian education system over the past years?
For Schools, I would say one of the main reasons, is the population increase which lead to an incredible increase in the number of students, equivalent to a lower increase in classrooms that can accommodate this massive increase, as number of students reaches up to 70 students per classroom. The second reason is the poor qualifications of the teacher; furthermore we are not up to date with the most advanced teaching techniques that are applied worldwide; same curriculums have been given to students for the last 50 years; our ranking worldwide is extremely poor versus ranking of other countries that have efficient educational systems.
For the education system in universities, I would say that little attention is given to the importance of scientific research in Egypt; if we take a closer look we will find that most of the academic research that are available are conducted in foreign countries, not in Egypt! Also many faculties are not well equipped with labs that can effectively serve its students.
How do you view the attempts of the Minister of education to establish a new educational system in Egypt?
Well I do believe that the attempts of establishing a new educational system are actually well planned and successful; the minister is actually taking the right step this year which is establishing a new educational system for the kinder garden and KG1, which are the base of preparing any student; in 2030, the students who have received the new curriculum will be at the preparatory level. So in a nutshell, the new curriculum will be applied for the kinder garden level and KG1; as for the rest, of the years it will witness some alternations for the present curriculums. As for the exams, it will witness an important step, which is alternating the format of the exams from the typical form of just reciting information to more research and open book format. The key is to train the students how to use their minds in research, not just reciting information without understanding!
Another important step that will be applied, is establishing a new system for setting the exams questions; this will be based according to setting a fixed criteria for selecting the exam questions. In the past, exams were designed according to choosing questions that would be answered by the average student! What about the brilliant student?? The exam will be divided to questions that would be answered by brilliant and average students; the exam will be homogenous, yet it will address various levels, not only average or general questions.
Do you think that introducing new technological devices to students, like the ipad, is a good step?
I believe employing new technological devices within the educational system is a very critical step that the ministry is focusing on, according to research, 100,000 iPads have been given to students and 100,000 will soon be distributed. For sure these are small figures in light of a student population of 22 million students! On the other hand, the ministry is already working on establishing internet networks at schools, it has established the connection of fiber optics to many schools.
In your opinion…
what is the biggest challenge facing establishing a new education system in Egypt?
The new system has restrictions on the number of students in class, the average number of students in a class is 25 students. The key challenge is that the government must allocate a budget to increase the number of schools in Egypt to accommodate for the wider population of students in order to achieve the targeted density of students within a class.
Please tell us about the Japanese educational system?
The Japanese educational system is called the “Tokkatsu”, this system takes into consideration the psychological nature of the kid and the demands of each age. For example, in the primary level in japan, there are no exams for the students, as at this stage kids need to do more physical activities; also the student learns about team work and how to communicate with his or her colleagues. Tokkatsu which stands for “special activities”; is based on learning through practicing special activities inside the class, and activities through which students develop better communication and team building skills to successfully work with their colleagues .
Tokkatsu, also develops students sense of responsibility and commitment to their communities. The teacher’s role according to the Tokkatsu is just a facilitator who guides the student in his research processes, the student must depend on himself to search for the information. Team work is a key within the Tokkatsu system. They also take students on outings to develop their communication skills outside school. They teach them ethics, manners and how to respect the customs and the regulations of their society. Furthermore, teachers work on making the student more confident in his or her abilities which is the most important part in developing the child’s character to thereafter build his identity with a clear scope and vision towards the future.
If you would give an advice to teachers, what would it be?
I believe the teachers need to be experts not only in the fields of their specialty education, but also in child psychology; in japan, they regard the qualifications of the teacher as a crucial element and in fact they select the PHD holder to teach for students in kinder garden and KG1 students; as dealing with the younger age needs more experience. I hope we can do the same process within the coming years, to build a strong Ph D holders for this crucial stage of a child’s education and development.