Now, the Education Revolution
August 28, 2012
attempts at reform, as in most authoritarian systems, education during the past
decades in Egypt largely trained students to be obedient citizens. Oppression was
administered through rote memorization, the unrestricted practice of violence
in schools, the dilapidated and overcrowded classrooms in many of the
underprivileged communities, the disrespect for both children’s and teachers’
rights, the large numbers of children not only out of school but ‘out of
learning,’ the rapid proliferation of privatized education both through
generalized and rampant private tutoring—what some have called the shadow
educational system—and through for-profit education for those able to afford
it. All this denied Egyptians access to quality learning, and thus to the right
to dignity and equity, which became a core demand of the January 25 revolution.
it is essential that a new vision for education be discussed and adopted—and
this should occur as part of the process of drafting a new constitution. This
will not be an easy task, given the political polarization in Egypt. Yet, make
no mistake: the future shape of the educational system will have a profound
impact on the country’s political, economic, and cultural development. The new
debate will force Egyptians to address difficult questions in order to
articulate a broad vision for society. What is the nature of the economic
system and the relationship between private, cooperative, and public property?
Is education to remain a ‘public good’? What is the nature of the democracy we
are striving for? What is the role of civil society? What is the nature of
citizenship and what are the fundamental values and skills the educational system
hopes to contribute?
nation-builders should follow a six-point strategy in order to accomplish a
paradigm shift in education in line with the rightful demands of the
Investment. There must be the political will to provide funding for education.
The constitution should commit the state to an annual investment of no less
than 7 percent of GDP. Constitutional articles that ensure compulsory, free,
basic education should be reinforced. A new strategic plan should be developed
with a comprehensive vision for education, including parameters for the
relationship between the public and private educational sectors.
Participation. A National Council for Education should be established to give
the domain greater political prominence and importance, and facilitate
consultation with all sectors of society. It would serve as a think tank
accountable to citizens, communities, parents, and students. Professional
academies, learner communities, and local school boards should be given enhanced
roles. Education must no longer be the purview solely of the Ministry of
Empowerment. New pedagogical practices that empower students must be adopted.
For the development of critical thinking abilities, Egyptians need to become
active participants in creating knowledge and be responsible for their own
learning and research. Dialogue should become central to the way young people
learn and develop the necessary skills to become independent, lifelong
learners. Another essential element of change is a shift to cooperative
learning, where students are encouraged to work together in preparation for
becoming citizens who collaborate for the good of society. This is of
particular relevance given the atomization that Egyptian society has undergone in
the last half century. The vision should emphasize that education is a pathway
to life and not merely to the labor market.
Equity and Inclusiveness. Constitutional articles ensuring equity and
inclusiveness must be translated into actual policies serving constituencies
such as girls, the poor, and children in geographically remote areas.
Parliament should provide investments in education that are largely in favor of
Management. A comprehensive education management information system must be
developed to ensure information is made available to the public in keeping with
the state’s responsibility to pursue equity, social justice, and effective
governance. Such a system will assist the creation of poverty maps that help
identify and assist disenfranchised populations. In addition, budgets, teaching
practices, and learning processes as well as the outcomes of learning should be
made easily accessible to the general public including parents, school boards,
and local communities. The system would help highlight the importance of
research in policy-making and public accountability.
Leadership. The Thanaweya Amma (final secondary school examination) has long been the traumatic
rite of passage to adulthood for many adolescents and young people in Egypt.
Secondary education must be transformed to recognize adolescents as agents of
change and impart them with the liberating and empowering skills required for
making informed decisions and participating in society. Likewise, educators
themselves must be given sufficient opportunities for professional development
so that they may take their rightful place in building their nation.
Zaalouk is a professor of practice and director of
the Middle East Institute for Higher Education at the American University in
Cairo. From 2005 to 2010, she served as regional senior education adviser for
the Middle East and North Africa at the United Nations Children’s Fund. She is
the author of The Pedagogy of Empowerment:
Community Schools as a Social Movement in Egypt.