Education in Egypt: Addressing the Barriers to a Better Future

Exams in Egypt – Photo by Egyptian Center for Economic Social Rights

Written by N.Mohamed

Why is it important to educate our children? You have asked the same question before, whether now as a parent or when you were a child asking why should I go to school? Education opens the door to you, it helps you develop the skills needed to live. It widens your horizons and allows you to understand and respect your rights and your duties toward your society, your family, your home and the whole nation.

As an educated person, you become aware of your goals, career and the tools needed to improve your quality of life. We all faced challenges when we were at school and so did our parents, our challenges might not be the same as theirs and what will our children face will also differ from ours but the most important thing is to acknowledge these challenges and work on overcoming them.

The education system in Egypt consists of three phases for children in the age range of 4-14 years old. The first phase is kindergarten for 2 years followed by 6 years in primary then preparatory education for 3 years until secondary education which also lasts for 3 years before the student starts his/her university life.

Statistically and as published by Statista, This graph depicts the literacy rate in Egypt from 2006 to 2021. The literacy rate measures the percentage of people aged 15 and above who can read and write. In 2021, Egypt’s literacy rate was around 73.09 percent. Throughout this article, we will do our best to try and shed some light on the challenges that face education in Egypt, efforts done by the government to try and eradicate them and the image reflected by the local news in the country.

Quality of Education: This is affected by several factors such as the teaching styles considered rigid as it doesn’t encourage the student’s participation throughout the education process. The teacher/student ratio as the density of the pupils in class increased significantly in the past 5 years at the rate of 5.11 per cent between the school years 2015/16 and 2019/20. Adding to this, The infrastructure in some areas especially rural places are not fully prepared for the students. Some of them lack  functional water and sanitation facilities. In addition to what was mentioned above, Egypt now faces a shortage of staff in the educational field which is also considered an important challenge in the quality of education presented to the children.

On the other hand, although the private education sector might not have the same challenges as the public one however it is also of a very high cost that the average Egyptian citizen can’t afford so it is also considered a challenge.

To improve the quality of education and overcome these problems, UNICEF since 1992 is supporting the Ministry of education in Egypt in improving the education journey. This cooperation led to many projects that are helping the education process in Egypt to become better. For example, the Community-Based Education project which is by the help of UNICEF provides access to education to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children by adopting and scaling up a Community-based Education model.

Also, the government together with the ministry is working on a plan to take efficient decisions. As an example of this that was mentioned in a local newspaper in Egypt, a recent program was issued by the ministry to train 150 thousand teachers to be hired in the next five years as a means to decrease the shortage of staff and improve the teachers/student ratio. Also, in the past few years, the education system in Egypt and under the influence of Corona has transitioned to electronic education out of paper-based education. This will be discussed in more detail later in the article as this is also created a new challenge to education in Egypt that we need to highlight in more detail.

Dropout Rates in Education: Unicef defines dropout as follows “Children who are of educational age do not enrol in school or leave it without completing the educational stage in which they are studying, whether by their desire or as a result of other factors, as well as failure to attend regularly for a year or more.”

Most of the students in Egypt and as you can see in this graph were enrolled in general primary schooling during 2020/2021 about 13.4 million. On the contrary, you can see that a significantly lower number were enlisted in preparatory and general secondary education. This indicates that some students drop out and don’t continue their education after or even during the general primary phase.

The problem of dropouts is considered a major challenge to education. It has negative effects on the family, the society and the nation overall. In my opinion, increasing dropout rates are a consequence of the challenges mentioned in the quality of education however this is not the only factor.

Many studies have been performed to evaluate and understand the main reasons behind this challenge in the education process. These studies also provided general characteristics for the students who drop out of school and these characteristics are Children with limited mental abilities, Students with difficult economic conditions, Children who live in families suffering from social disintegration, Children who are competent but have problems with their teachers or colleagues, Children with special behaviour as a result of social and economic conditions that lead them to be aggressive towards their teachers and classmates.

By looking at data and statistics issued by the Ministry of Education and contained in the Annual Statistics Book 2021/2022. There are several indicators that we need to highlight to better understand this challenge and search for the possible causes. These causes can be summarised as follows:

1- Percentages of school dropouts: The percentage of school dropouts at the primary level in the period from 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 was about 0.2%, of whom 0.17% were girls and 0.23% were boys, compared to 0.25%, including 0.20% for girls, and 0.29% for boys in the period from 2018/2019 and 2019/2020.

The percentage of school dropouts in the preparatory stage in the period from 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 was about 0.87%, of whom 1.10% were girls and 0.66% were boys, compared to 1.73%, including 2.07% girls, and 1.40% boys in the period from 2018/ 2019 and 2019/2020.

Even though the dropout rates are declining and getting better but they still exist. But what we can notice from the graph that shows the dropout rates in the preparatory education phase, the percentage of girls dropping out is near twice that of boys. While it is quite the opposite in the primary education phase. This is an indication that due to social and economic needs, some families force children to work and leave their education so they can help with the income for the whole family. While in the preparatory stage, many families encourage the early marriage of the girls to get rid of their expenses and economic burdens.

This is a very important challenge and several reasons contribute to its increase and these causes are:

  • Economic factors are considered the primary cause of this phenomenon as the lack of the parent’s capability of providing for their children their needs force them to take such actions and harm their future.
  • Social factors reflect the family and the environment that the child lives in which plays an important role, for example some old social customs such as prioritizing boys’ education over girls and early marriage for girls.
  • Educational factors which are already mentioned in the quality of education part at the beginning of this article.

This makes us think, why is dropping out of school considered a challenge or a bad phenomenon that we try to eradicate? What is its impact on society? So to answer this question we will have to look at it from several axes.

  • Economic repercussions as the government spend money and this money is wasted on the students dropping out since the outcome that is expected can’t be achieved since the student is no longer being educated.
  • Educational implications: Education’s role in society is not just about teaching how to read, write and do simple maths. Its main goal is also to reform and impede the social change that is desirable for individuals.
  • Social repercussions: when a child is not in school and at this critical age is being left in the street he is being transformed into a dangerous version that may lead him to do crimes and acts of violence.

The government in Egypt is aware of this issue and is working on getting it to vanish at the soonest as I would like to highlight some of the efforts done by the government to help with this phenomenon eradicated.

  • The 2014 Constitution: Article 19 of the 2014 Constitution expands the right to free education mentioned in previous constitutions, as it states that education is a right for every citizen, and it aims to build the Egyptian character, preserve national identity, and instil the values ​​of citizenship, tolerance and non-discrimination, and the state is committed to.
  • Sustainable Development Strategy 2030 (Education Axis) which we will discuss in detail in the next part of the article.
  • The elaboration of a strategic plan to declare Egypt free of illiteracy by 2030.
  • Expanding the construction of public schools to reduce the density of classes.
  • An online tele-learning platform created by the General Authority for Adult Education during the coronavirus pandemic.

The transition from paper-based to technology-based education in Egypt:

Although the coronavirus pandemic was a disaster on all levels to the whole world, one can’t deny the impact it made on the countries both negative and positive. It was a tough time but at the same time, it was a great opportunity so everyone can stop and think about these questions. How can I keep going when everything around me, stops? How can I continue working/eating/learning/exercising and do everything just like nothing happened? How can I walk out of the pandemic a winner and not a loser?

These questions must have crossed your mind during the past 2 and a half years as the coronavirus and the lockdown was a blessing for some companies and economies for example the e-commerce field and it was not a blessing for others such as the retail stores that still don’t have online stores and depends only on the physical stores. This was also a start for education to move into a technology-based one since learning is essential and even during lockdowns or pandemics it’s important to continue the learning process as education and building the next generation is important for society and the country overall.

In Egypt, the e-learning process started as an execution of the government’s vision that by 2030 education should be of high and international standards and quality, should release a highly up-to-date and skilled member for the society and use technology to implement education and communication between both the teacher and the student. This has been seen by using tablets instead of paper books and using more advanced technologies to deliver the information by the teacher to the student. Although this is considered a huge step however it does create a lot of challenges for the teachers, parents and students which also creates a bigger challenge for the government and the ministry of education.

The system will eradicate the old education system’s ailments by turning the pupils from passive recipients into active participants in the educational process,” said Ahmed Khairy, a spokesman for Egypt’s Ministry of Education, “We are going for a total change of the educational process, instead of introducing minor changes,” he said.

Some local journals considered these challenges an indication of the failure of the whole experiment and some considered this as a challenge to the ministry and that we still need to work on this to consider this a fully successful transition. In any transition period, you see challenges and burdens and that is not considered a failure but opportunities to work on making this better. I will add a few examples below about the challenges that were created during this transition period for clarification.

  • So from the school side, the facilities in Egypt are not fully equipped and prepared for this transition yet as you can see many struggles when it comes to the network quality and the presence of fully trained technicians to deal with when the network is down.
  • The system itself still has a lot of errors that are causing stress to both teachers and students as an example of this is when for any reason the system stops while the student is having an exam there’s a high chance that the student won’t be able to recover his answers that he typed before the system stops or even restart the timer he can rewrite his answers once more.
  • Teachers are not trained or have the required access to control any challenge that the students may face as they’re using their tablets to do the exams.
  • Internet access is still not available in all educational facilities which make these facilities still depend on paper-based approaches with their students.
  • Parents also complained about the type of questions given to the students as it differs from one student to another which is not fair to all students
  • A local paper also mentioned that the same student took advantage of this to cheat on there which will not help provide an accurate evaluation of this experiment to better work on its negatives.

The general secondary exams, which are considered the most important exams in the life of an Egyptian student, are a major burden in this experiment. These exams serve as the sole means of determining a student’s university path. Because this is an important stage, the parents definitely expressed their concerns about implementing the technological approach, believing that it would seriously damage their children’s future and could be the reason that their children’s dreams were not achieved. Due to the importance of this in the life of an Egyptian student, the government extended it to all preuniversity years except general secondary exams. This year, students in this phase will take exams that consist of 85% MCQs and 15% essays. The correction process will be based on new tech to reduce the human factor (and thus reduce human errors during the correction process) and will rely on technology to correct the exams and provide the final grade. According to the Ministry of Education, the exams will be held in June 2023, so we will have to wait and see how things go this year in the hopes that the students will have a fair chance to achieve their dreams and choose the career path they want and prefer.

At the end of this article, I would like to say that it is essential that we emphasize the challenges we face in education, specifically because education is so crucial to shaping the future of the entire world. An educated individual who we assist today will be tomorrow’s doctor, engineer, worker, and every other significant human being who contributes to a better future for our children and ourselves. Investing in our children has always had a positive influence on society and our lives. We, everyone, want to see a better tomorrow, and we should all work together to make that happen. We must make sure that the next generation inherits a healthy environment.


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  • Cover Photo by aboodi vesakaran on Unsplash

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