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Egypt - Educational System—overview

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceEgypt - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education


Current educational philosophy in Egypt is the product of three cultural heritages: British, secular (westernized) Egyptian, and Islamic (traditional) Egyptian. The British protectorate in Egypt left an exclusionary, state-controlled education system structured to serve elite (British) interests with little concern for the masses. The heritage was one of restricted opportunity, unenforced limited education (generally of poor quality), and higher education reserved mostly for the elite. Egyptians and non-English foreigners were left few options but to expand private and religious education.

Muhammad Ali, regarded as the father of modern Egypt and its education system, introduced a secular, modern, western educational philosophy complete with sciences. Egyptian leaders since the bloodless revolution that ended the monarchy in 1952 have espoused this approach, viewing it as essential to Egyptian development. Islamic education remained in place and, eventually, the traditional Islamic and the western educational tracks, with their differing orientations, created a dichotomized educational culture that persists to the present.

The Islamic heritage is an educational system, parallel to public education, that is basically a system of transmitting culture. From its founding in 972 until the modern period in the nineteenth century, Al-Azhar University mosque played a central role in shaping the country's religious, educational, and cultural life. At the bottom of the Islamic educational system were kuttabs (mosque or Quranic schools), the madrasas (religious schools), and the Sufi (mystical orders). Resting on memorization and recitation, the traditional methods for learning the Quran, this educational system does not stress experimentation, problem-solving analysis, or learningby-doing. Education is conceived as a process that involves the complete person, including rational, spiritual, and social dimensions. The Arab/Muslim heritage carries an orientation that transcends national boundaries to include all Arabs and Muslims. From 1922 on, Nasser offered free education, not only for Egyptians, but also for students from other Muslim countries. At the same time, Egypt sent teachers and administrators out to the rest of the Arab world where they set up and staffed schools and universities on a large scale.

Egypt's educational system both reflects and augments the socio-economic status of its own people. Historic conflicts between religious and secular leaders, between tradition and innovation, and between foreign and national interests all influence contemporary Egyptian education. Education in Egypt has political, social, and economic objectives, namely: education for strengthening democracy and comprehensive development as a continuous process, within the framework of Arab culture.

Political tides in Egypt are reflected in educational philosophy. In the early decades following independence, the political system was in a state of transformation and experimentation that resulted in confusing educational policies with fragmented development plans. In the era of economic concerns in the early 1960s, education became a tool to promote economic change. The social focus dominant in the later 1960s led schools to instruct strong Islamic values and democratic ideals. During the 1970s, which was a time of institutionalization, the educational system was bureaucratized.

The Egyptian government recognizes the tensions between Islam and western-generated science and attempts to develop educational goals facilitating both. Throughout the past 40 years, the strong autocratic government, rooted in the Islamic tradition of the protective father, sometimes conflicted with the democratization efforts in schools; nevertheless, the number of schools and technical schools increased even in times of economic downturns.

There is an abiding belief in education. It is viewed as vital to the transmission of cultural values and as a critical force in individual development and in national Egyptian development. Pre-university education reflects the dual secular and religious philosophies as it aims to develop the learner culturally, scientifically, and nationally at successive levels "with the aim of developing the Egyptian individual who is faithful to his God, his homeland, and to the values of good, truth, and humanity."

The public education system consists of three stages: the basic education stage for 4- to 14-year-olds (kindergarten for two years followed by primary school for five years and preparatory school for three years); the secondary school stage for three years, generally for ages 14 to 17; and the tertiary (university) stage. Education is compulsory for 8 years between the ages of 6 and 14. All levels of education are tuition-free at all government schools and institutions. In 1993, more than 13.8 million people were enrolled in state education at all levels. In five years, that figure grew by 5 million. Ninety-one percent of all school-age children were enrolled in school in 1991. When this figure is adjusted for school dropouts and students repeating grades, the enrollment figures drop to 84 percent. (Unofficial estimates place this figure at 70 percent). In 1996, the total official enrollment in primary, preparatory, and secondary schools topped 14 million, the equivalent of 88 percent of the school-age population (boys, 94 percent; girls, 82 percent). In 1998-1999, some 17 million students were enrolled.

Rural-urban inequities continue to persist; in 1991-1992, rural enrollments often did not exceed 50 percent of the appropriate age group and were as low as 10 percent in some regions. Gender inequities also persist; fewer female than male students are enrolled. Many girls drop out of school at the end of their basic compulsory program either to work or to marry. A law prohibiting girls from marrying prior to age 16 has slowly begun to affect the female dropout rates. The law is frequently ignored, however.

The planning process, especially at the basic education level, begins at the bottom as governate officials submit new project proposals (schools, classrooms, equipment, and teachers) and budget requests every year to the Ministry of Education.

Preprimary & Primary Education: Within the Ministry of Education, a Higher Council for Childhood supervises and coordinates preschool education with other concerned authorities. By ministerial decree, preschool education is intended to aid mental, physical, social, moral, and emotional development; develop language skills and numerical and technical abilities, especially creativity and imagination; raise children in a better environment; help children develop good personalities; and help children gradually accept formal school life and discipline.

In 1995-1996 there were 2,060 preschools staffed by 10,913 teachers, enrolling 266,502 students. Preschool enrollment included 80 percent of the children in the relevant age group (boys, 86 percent, and girls, 74 percent). There are no periods in the preschool day; days are filled with activities and experiences to help children develop their spiritual, moral, physical, social, and emotional domains. Homework or outside duties are strongly discouraged.

All preschool institutions, whether state run or privately operated, are under the Ministry of Education, educationally, technically, and administratively. The Ministry selects and distributes textbooks; the use of any additional textbooks is forbidden. Guidelines state that each class is to have two teachers and a helper in addition to a music teacher. The maximum class size is 45 students. No child less than 4-years-old is allowed in state preschool classes or schools. The private sector can accept children younger than 4, but not less than 3 years and 9 months.

Primary school is also concerned with physical, social, moral, and emotional development, as well as with giving children the knowledge and technical skills needed for a successful practical life. Students may attend non-government private schools, religious schools, or government schools. Primary schools enroll 60 percent of the total school population for all levels of schooling in Egypt. Approximately 45 percent of the primary students are girls, and the majority of primary teachers are women. English and French private schools are growing in popularity as bilingualism gives children social and academic privileges and later lucrative employment. Primary enrollments continue to climb. Primary schools served more than 1.0 million more students (7.5 million) in 1995-1996 (in more than 22,000 additional classrooms) than in 1990-1991. In 1995-1996, the Al-Azhar Moslem system served 704,446 students in 1,912 primary schools with another 147,762 students enrolled in 1,030 preparation (grades 6 through 8) schools.

Secondary Education: The second tier of compulsory education (grades 6 through 8) lasts for three years. Students completing the primary tier of basic education can complete the second tier in general preparation schools, in vocational training centers or schools, or in vocational preparatory classes. Completion of this tier earns the Basic Education Completion Certificate or the Certificate in Vocational Basic Education. An important function of preparatory education is to provide a safeguard against illiteracy as early school dropouts tend to lapse back into illiteracy. The enrollments in preparatory schools in the 1990s totaled 3,679,325, less than half that of the primary schools. Preparatory schools reflect the attrition occurring in the final primary year.

There are two types of public secondary education: general secondary education and technical secondary education. To enter general secondary education, students must pass a national exam given at the end of their preparatory stage. Secondary schools conduct examinations every month for the first two years, and students take a national exam in the final year. Those who pass receive the Certificate of General Secondary Education, a requirement for admission to the universities (accompanied by a strong academic record). A wide range of social, cultural, athletic, scientific, and artistic extra-curricular activities are available in secondary schools, usually sponsored by the teachers. Enrollment expanded significantly between 1990-1991 and 1994-1995 in secondary school (47 percent in general secondary and 85 percent in technical-vocational secondary). In 1994-1995, general secondary enrollment reached 894,400 students, while technical-vocational enrollment was more than twice as high at 1,893.800 students. In 1996 secondary school enrollment included 68 percent of the appropriate age group (boys, 71 percent; girls, 64 percent). In 1995-1996 there were 2,753 secondary schools with 6,142,651 students and 369,107 teachers.

The parallel Islamic educational system, also known as the Al-Azhar system, has a four-year primary stage, a three-year preparatory stage, and a four-year secondary stage. Girls and boys attend separate schools. In 1995-1996, the Al-Azhar Moslem system operated 57 secondary schools with 165,829 students. The curriculum is identical to the normal public curriculum with additional study of the Quran and Islamic sciences. Graduates are automatically accepted into Al-Azhar University.

Special Education: In 2000 approximately 10 to 12 percent of pre-university students were special education students. Responsibility for the physically challenged is shared by the Ministry of Education (concerned with the education of the blind and partially sighted, deaf and partially deaf, and mentally retarded), the Ministry of Social Affairs (provides rehabilitation services to all disabled persons), the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Manpower. By 1994-1995, a total of 25 schools for the blind, 95 schools for the hearing-impaired, and 107 schools for the mentally impaired students were operating. Special schools and classes are provided at all levels, serving a total of 22,043 students in 1996-1997.

English language study is part of the curricula in the preparatory stage of basic special education (seventh and eight grades for the deaf and fourth grade for the blind). Changes in the 1990s include a library class added to primary education for the blind and the deaf as well as a class in Arabic handwriting as a separate subject from the Arabic language. A kindergarten for deaf children, starting from age 4, was planned for 1995-1996. Special government departments are authorized for multi-handicapped children and for learning disabled children. Government-sponsored special education schools serve the gifted and talented and the mentally retarded, as well as the physically challenged. Plans to identify gifted students in the kindergarten stage and then to provide special learning experiences for them were developed in 1996. In 1994-1995, some 699 new classrooms were established for 20,790 gifted secondary students. The Ein Shams University School for the gifted was developed with 12 classes serving 261 children.

Other special schools include private schools in villages attached to mosques and private foreign schools where the language of instruction is often not Arabic. At the end of each month, all children in each grade are tested on the same monthly educational unit. In January, they are tested on all three units. The process is repeated in May. The examinations at grades three and five and in preparatory school are prepared and administered locally and considered to be uneven and poor in quality. Children scoring badly on the Grade 5 exam are placed in the least desirable preparatory schools; those scoring badly on the Grade 8 exam may only enter technical secondary schools. An extensive nationally-constructed testing system devised in the 1990s was never implemented. Regional authorities resented national intrusion and refused to cooperate; however, gentler means of improving testing have been introduced.

Higher Education: In the 27 years between 1951-1952 and 1978-1979, student enrollment in public universities grew nearly 1,400 percent. In 1989-1990, there were 14 public universities with a total enrollment of 700,000 students. Four private universities opened in 1996, and there were 612,844 students (231,065 women) and 33,100 academic staff by 1993-1994. By 2000, the universities generated 150,000 graduates a year.

A two-semester system for the school year was instituted in all universities in 1992. The university academic year is 30 working weeks. Arabic is the medium of instruction in humanities, social studies, education, law, commerce, economics and political sciences, information, social service, tourism and hotels. English is widely used in the faculties of medicine, pharmacology, dentistry science, and engineering.

Higher education includes non-university training in Egypt in engineering and technological education institutes, education institutes, private institutes, technical industrial institutes, and commercial and hotel institutes. Since the late 1970s, the government initiated policies to reorient postsecondary education toward technical training programs in agriculture, commerce, and a variety of other fields. Student subsidies were partially responsible for a 15 percent annual increase in enrollments in the country's five-year technical institutes. In 1993-1994, 49,703 students were enrolled in commerce institutes (24,906 women) and 31,259 in technical institutes (9,401 women). Universities, however, permitted graduates of secondary schools and technical institutes to enroll as "external students;" they could not attend classes, but could sit for examinations and earn degrees. The policy resulted in a flourishing clandestine trade in class notes and professors overburdened with additional examinations.

Literacy education began in the 1930s when the Ministry of Social Affairs opened a number of rural welfare centers in the governates offering limited health services and literacy education. Progress through the next decades was slow, and rural illiteracy remained high. President Mubarak launched a massive campaign for the eradication of illiteracy from 1993 to 2002. The General Agency for the Eradication of Illiteracy and Adult Education oversees the schedule for the literacy plan, which targets the 9,792,800 illiterates between the ages of 15 and 35. The literacy plan includes evaluation and rewriting of literacy curricula and educational materials, a collaborative effort between the Agency, UNICEF, and the Center for Curriculum Development and Educational Materials (three integrated books on Arabic, mathematics and general culture plus teachers guides were Completed by 2001), and training programs for leaders and supervisors (more than 13,389 teachers and supervisors have been trained). In addition, the plan includes training unemployed institute and university graduates for teaching literacy (in 1996 about 30,000 of these graduates were trained); using 10,000 military-enlisted personnel to identify learners and equip classrooms with materials; a publicity campaign; conferences and workshops on literacy; the development of a database and information system; and bilateral agreements with UNICEF, UNESCO, Arab organizations, and NGOs (nongovernmental organizations). Special literacy classes are provided for those with special needs.

Female literacy in 1927 was only 5 percent; fifty years later it was 38 percent (male literacy was 62 percent). The combined adult literacy rate was estimated at 44 percent in 1980, the lowest of 10 comparable lower-middle income countries. In 1995, UNESCO estimated the literacy rate to be 51.4 percent (males, 63.6; females, 38.8 percent). As of June 1996, more than 956,000 adult learners completed the literacy program, with more than 596,000 other students attending 27,225 classes. By 1998, adult literacy is believed to have increased to 62.2 percent as a direct result of the government initiatives. Government financial support for literacy education increased from slightly less than 6 million Egyptian pounds in 1992-1993 to nearly 79 million Egyptian pounds three years later. In addition, the Social Fund allocated 105 million Egyptian pounds to mobilize college and institute graduates to work in the project.

Technology & Instructional Materials: In the early 1990s, The Center for Educational Technology was established within the Ministry of Education. Technology equipment is considered "as a medium for developing scientific thinking, problem solving, new modes of learning, and training and communication." New technology planned for pre-university schools includes computers, projectors, television and video sets, and CDI sets. A five-year plan to equip 10,000 schools with this new technology was completed, and 2,000 computer instructors were appointed to secondary schools. Advanced science laboratories were developed in secondary schools (1,500 laboratories with 16,500 new computers). By the mid-1990s, about 200 pre-university schools were linked to the Internet with one pre-university school working on the Globe Project, which gathers environmentally-related global data for sharing with other schools. The Center, in collaboration with the General Department for Educational Aids, is implementing an integrated plan to enhance educational aids such as transparencies, colored slides, still films, models, and microscopic and biological samples; to produce laser CDs for various topics in the curriculum starting with the very early years; and to produce videotapes and audio tapes—especially in the language areas (Arabic, English, and French).

Training on the new equipment has been introduced in Cairo and will eventually take place in educational technology centers closer to schools. In collaboration with Egyptian Radio and Television, distance-training programs are being developed to assist teachers. Six training centers throughout the country are being connected through a fiber optic network to facilitate exchange of information and maximize the use of the technology. Multi-media laboratories, the Internet, and language and computer laboratories are being introduced in the colleges of education. The Egyptian University's Network (EUN) links university computer centers and research institutes throughout Egypt and is the Egyptian gateway to the Internet and Terena. Internet use is available to all universities, faculty members, and graduate students (with about 1300 users in the mid-1990s). More than 80 organizations throughout Egypt can also access it.

Foreign Influences: Extensive foreign influence is apparent throughout Egyptian education. Examples include UNESCO and Fulbright support of overseas teacher training, World Bank engagement in distance education and educational reform as part of loan programs, and technical and scientific education aid using expertise, facilities, and equipment from Americans, French, Germans, Italians, and Japanese. UNICEF aids in development of educational materials. Teachers are sent overseas to the United States, the United Kingdom, and France for training. The Egyptian-Swiss Fund for Development works to improve primary education. Pan Arabic conferences set the aims and goals of education in Egypt and other nations.

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