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Preprimary & Primary Education

Early childhood education is rooted in Arabic culture. Egyptian nursery schools and kindergartens date back to the turn of the twentieth century. In the 1930s, the Child Guidance Clinic attached to the Higher Institute of Education (now Faculty of Education, Ain Shams University) was founded. The movement for out-of-home education grew as more women entered the workforce and as they formed Women's Associations. Childcare centers and homes accept infants as young as two months. These are primarily "child keepers," lacking educationally oriented services or intervention programs. Day care centers are regulated by the Ministry of Social Affairs. Nursery schools accept children as young as two years, but three is the most common minimum. Some nursery schools are attached to private regular schools (language schools and foreign schools) but are considered high cost. Others, sponsored by the Ministry of Social Affairs, are widespread and inexpensive, but lack resources and personnel. Some are sponsored by private organizations, especially women's societies, and some by mosques, churches, industrial factories and recreational clubs.

Kindergartens are primarily concerned with pre-academic orientation. Activities are designed for children to learn sound values of religion, social cooperation, and physical being. In 1977, a presidential decree bolstered the development of kindergartens through the establishment of a National Committee on the Welfare of Children. In the 1990s, the educational structure was revised to gradually include kindergarten into the basic education stage, although attendance is not compulsory. Enrollment doubled in the six-year period from 1990-1991 to 1996-1997. Kindergartens have many of the same sponsors as nursery schools. "Private for Profit" kindergartens have primarily middle class clientele because parents must pay. "Private Least Profit" kindergartens are frequently affiliated with educational institutions, humanitarian service organizations, or social associations. "Public Least Profit" kindergartens deliver services at very reduced costs to low-income families. The main objective is preparation for formal training with pre-reading, pre-writing, and pre-arithmetic activities. A secondary objective is sensory-motor development and emotional-social development. Approximately 60 to 70 percent of the time is spent in pre-academic and 30 to 40 percent in language-based activities (poetry, story listening and telling, environment, music, singing and rhythmic activities, and arts and crafts). Most activities are play-based.

The National Conference for the Development of Primary Education Curricula in 1993, maintained the dual aims of Islamic religious concerns and secular modern concerns when it identified as major goals for basic education:

  • "Preparing and developing Egyptian citizens in a manner that will assist them to adjust to the demands of a modern changing society and to face the renewable challenges, besides enabling them to comprehend the religious, national, and cultural dimensions of their identity."
  • "Providing the society with citizens who have mastered basic scientific skills, with special emphasis on skills of reading, writing, arithmetic, and the disciplines of future sciences (science, mathematics, and languages)."
  • "Providing citizens with the essential fundamental knowledge on health, nutrition, the environment, and the development-related issues."
  • "Preparing and assisting citizens to develop transferable skills, including analytical skills, critical thinking, scientific skills, and problem-solving skills that can enable them to respond to ongoing demands and adjust to scientific and technological progress."

The Ministry revised primary school curricula and teaching methods and increased the number of teachers in the 1990s. Primary education was redesigned into two levels. The first level includes grades 1 to 3 where the basic skills of reading, writing, and mathematics should be mastered (in addition to religious education). At the end of the second level, grades 4 and 5, children should be able to utilize these skills in everyday activities. Children are tested at the end of grades 3 and 5 in mathematics and Arabic, plus science and social studies at grade 5. Up to 70 percent of the curriculum is spent in acquiring skill in Arabic, although classes in English (for fourth grade) were introduced in 1994, as were French classes in 1995. In the 1990s, an experimental language school was established to teach French, and science clubs were established. Special classes and/or schools for the gifted and handicapped are also provided.

Recognizing the malnutrition of many children, the Ministry of Education has initiated a nutrition program of fortified snacks for students in full-day schools. In 1995-1996, some 5,814,067 children benefited from the nutrition program. In addition, health insurance is provided for all pre-university children.

There are three types of primary schools: public schools, subsidized private schools, and unsubsidized private schools. Public schools and subsidized private schools are, for all practical purposes, indistinguishable. Neither charges any tuition, and both types of schools follow the same centrally prescribed curriculum. Private (unsubsidized) schools account for less than 5 percent of all primary school enrollments in Egypt and are found almost entirely in urban areas. Private schools include language schools, "service classes," or "private schools with fees." The language schools are often the remnants of foreign and missionary schools. They are under the control of the Ministry of Education, although they do have some independence. They offer training in foreign language, primarily English and French, starting in early grades. "Service classes" are remedial classes for sixth graders who fail the primary certificate examination. Until 1968, promotional exams and repetition in primary schools were not allowed and the only criterion for promotion was 75 percent attendance in each school year. In 1968, the policy changed—one repetition was permitted at the end of the fourth grade with automatic promotion to the fifth grade after the repetition. In 1972, a similar policy of repetition was extended to the second grade. Rural schools are plagued by high dropout rates and gender-related disparities in enrollment. To address these problems, three alternative school models attuned to the traditions of the local community were expanding in rural areas: elementary occupational schools, community schools, and one-room schools for girls.

Elementary occupational schools were designed for students who complete the five years of primary school but don't wish to enter preparatory school or who are dropouts or push-outs from primary school. They cannot enroll in occupational training centers before the age of 16. Completion of the Elementary Occupational program earns a certificate of occupational basic education and permits enrollment in occupational secondary schools.

Community Schools in Upper Egypt are developed through partnerships involving UNICEF, local NGOs, and the Ministry of Education. The communities select teachers and provide school buildings and general coordination. Learning is emphasized rather than teaching, and teachers are referred to as facilitators. In each "corner" of the classroom, a group of children is helped by a facilitator (and assistants) to plan their own learning. School hours are flexible. Facilitators train for several months in programs modeling the learning environments that they can create for the children. The syllabus is the equivalent of primary school's and includes basic elements of occupational training. Student achievement equals or betters that of government schools. In 1995, approximately 34 percent of girls in areas with community schools were attending them, 23 percent attended government schools, and 43 percent were not in school. By the end of 1996, some 112 schools had been established with 40 more added during 1997. Girls comprised 70 percent of the enrollment in 1995.

One-room schools grew out of the age-old Quranic kuttab schools. The lack of sufficient rural schools, absence of actual legal sanctions against parents not sending their children to primary school, child labor practices, and the distance to schools are countered by these schools with rural locations, flexible schedules, and mostly female teachers from the same rural area. The curriculum is confined to religion, Arabic, arithmetic, social studies, science, and English. There is no physical education, art, or music. One teacher teaches school subjects for the first three grades, another for the fourth and fifth grades, and one does the vocational practices and production projects for the five grades. Teaching is provided for three and a half hours daily, five days a week. Fridays and market days are excluded. The plan is to establish 3,000 schools in hamlets, villages, and isolated places. By 1996-1997, a total of 1,594 schools serving 24,144 girls were in operation.

The Ministry of Education reported in 1994 that approximately 25 percent of the students do not complete the five-year cycle of primary school. Due to grade repetition, the average child takes more than six years to complete primary school. Repetition is concentrated in grades 4 and 5 (approximately 20 percent for each grade). The majority of primary school non-attendees lived in rural areas where resource constraints are most severe. Dropouts generally occur after four and a half years. Dropouts, even in primary school, have real earnings possibilities, particularly in the agrarian part of the economy. Many children, however, do not enter the formal labor market after leaving school; instead, they tend to work in the home or on the family farm. Egyptian research indicates that children with greater ability and achievement are the most likely to stay in school, students of lesser ability tend to leave school early, and higher quality schools tend to retain more students than those of lesser quality.

The second tier (preparation cycle) of basic general education consists of a compulsory core curriculum of general study for the first two years with specialization occurring in the third year. The student selects a specialization in the arts, sciences, or mathematics. The curriculum centers around environmental, social, economic, and health topics considered relevant to the lives of the young. Admission to some preparatory schools, like language schools or sportive schools, requires preliminary exams. Vocational preparatory schools accept repeated failures from the fifth grade (as well as those who passed.) They also accept repeated failures of any grade of the preparatory schools when the child's abilities hinder his or her progress in such education. Children passing medical and ability tests are admitted in preparatory sportive schools, as are Egyptian students returning homeland and foreign students. Preparatory enrollment increased significantly in the late 1990s. The National Conference for the Development of Preparatory Education (1994) designated that the objectives of preparatory education are to:

  • eliminate the main sources of illiteracy
  • emphasize the components of values
  • foster social cooperation
  • equip the student with principles, values, and skills needed to work, adjust, and interact within a technological society
  • provide the student with essential fundamentals of knowledge
  • develop self-learning skills.

The curriculum for the second stage of basic (preparatory) education was revised in the 1990s. Textbooks and teaching materials were correspondingly revised. The last year exam is a major hurdle. Those failing this exam are essentially cut off from the remaining educational ladder, since schools are crowded and the chances for repeating the grade are limited by available space. As part of the educational reform of the 1990s, a 1993 conference laid the groundwork for undertaking comprehensive assessment, not limited to written examinations but including oral and scientific exams plus performance measures. The introduction of exams and repetitions led to the rise of private tutoring. In 1997, two-thirds of primary students and nearly all secondary students hired tutors.

Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineGlobal Education ReferenceEgypt - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education