The Egyptian government has focused on modernizing and developing its basic education system to remain an economically competitive, socially stable nation in the new millennium. Since the 1990 Jomtien World Conference on "Education for All", education has become one of the nation's highest priorities. The major priorities for education in Egypt as laid out by President Hosni Mubarak are (a) to ensure universal access to education with a special emphasis on girls and (b) to significantly upgrade the quality of education so that students can obtain the critical skills needed to compete in the global economy. The Egyptian government's educational reform effort also aims to improve the education system's overall system efficiency by enhancing sector planning, decision making, and management.
While the national budget for education has grown three-fold in the last decade to support educational reform, regional and gender inequalities pose a serious challenge to providing an "Education for All". While the official net school enrolment rate is about 80 percent for girls and boys, school enrollment can very greatly from region to region. In Upper Egypt, school-enrollment rates vary between 70 percent in cities such as Assuit and Sohag, to less than 55 per cent in surrounding rural areas (Watkins, 1999). In Urban Governorates such as Cairo and Suez, school enrollment rates vary from 81 percent to 95 percent (UNDP, 1999). Girls' access to education also remains a constraint to development. Women's literacy at 36% still compares unfavorably to that of men at 63% (USAID, 2000). Problems are especially pronounced in more remote rural areas, where young girls in particular are excluded from educational opportunities. (Watkins, 1999)
Despite the challenges, Egypt has been making progress towards providing equal access to quality education. Enrollment has increased from 8.7 million in 1981/82 to 18.7 million in 1998/99. Efforts are being made to bring education to rural areas and close the gap between males and females. Institutions such as One-Class Schools, Community Schools, and Home Classes focus on girl's education in rural areas and hamlets. Steps taken under President Mubarak's National Project for the Reform of Education, include developing school buildings, improving teacher preparation and development, updating curricula, and using technology. (Yearbook, 2000)
Stucture of Schooling
Egypt operates two parallel education systems: the secular system and the Al-Azhar system. Education is free at all levels at public institutions in both systems. Compulsory education extends over eight grades.
The secular system is organized as follows:
- First level is known as "basic education". It covers the first 8 years of state-sponsored schooling and once consisted of two separate stages, primary and preparatory. For all practical purposes, these were combined as a result of a 1984 law extending the number of years of compulsory education from five to eight.
- Second Level divides students between three-year general academic secondary schools and three- or five-year vocational schools. While academic schools are the preferred placement, increasing numbers of students are enrolling in vocational schools. At the beginning of Grade 10, academic school students must choose whether they will study the arts or sciences through Grade 11.
- Third Level is comprised of universities. Universities now also contain the teacher-training colleges, which used to be separate institutes.
The Al-Azhar System, which maintains separate facilities for male and female students, enrolls less than 4 percent of the county's total enrollment. It is responsible for "conveying the Mission of Islam to people at large, making manifest its geniuses and revealing its contribution for humanity's welfare and progress" (IRA, n.d.). Primary school extends over the first 6 years and preparatory school extends over the next three years. Students whom then go on to successfully complete 4 years of secondary school can enroll at Al-Azhar University. Those who do not go to secondary school can attend a specific education school.
A small preprimary level exists that consists of kindergartens and nurseries. While enrollments are currently extremely small and confined mostly to urban areas, the Egyptian government intends to increase enrollment in kindergarten to 10 percent of children aged 4 and 5 years ("Education", n.d.). Additionally, a private sector also exists enrolling about 8 percent of the student population (Mahrouse, 1995).
School Governance and Finance
Egypt is divided into two regions: lower Egypt and upper Egypt. These in turn are broken into 26 governorates, 150 districts and 808 village councils. There are 140 education districts with a network of supervisors and administrators.
Governance The Ministry of Education has jurisdiction for all levels of education through secondary education and the Ministry of Higher Education has jurisdiction over higher education. The Ministry of Higher Education also oversees teacher training for basic education. Each of the 26 governorates has it's own governance system. Overseeing the secular system, the state Ministry of Education is responsible for the planning, policy formulation, quality control, coordination, and follow-up for all levels of public education, including the universities.
The Ministry of Education is organized as follows:
- Office of Deputy Minister supervises external cultural relations, educational planning and follow-up, public relations, statistics, directorate's affairs, and the coordination of supervisors' work.
- Minister's Office Sector contains a People's Assembly liaison office, a technical center, a security office, a general secretariat of higher councils, a complaints office, and a secretariat section.
- Primary Education Sector oversees primary education, teacher preparation, and adult education and literacy.
- Preparatory and Secondary Education Sector
- Technical Education Sector oversees industrial, cultural, commercial, and technical education as well as technical equipment.
- Sector of Educational Services oversees military academies, social education, external relations, examinations, and educational activities.
- General Services Sector oversees educational methods, private education, nutrition, legal affairs, and office affairs.
- Sector of Administration Development oversees organization, training, and personnel.
- Administrative and Financial Affairs Sector
Egypt's 26 governorates, with similar but smaller organizational structures, are charged with the implementation of the Ministry's policies.
Supervision and administration of the Al-Azhar educational system is the responsibility of the Central Administration of Al-Azhar Institutes. This is a department of the Supreme Council of Al-Azhar which is responsible for the development of the general policy and the planning to enable to propagation of Islamic culture and Arabic language.
Finance. The state government is responsible for most of education finance for both educational systems. Egypt also receives aid from the World Bank, UNICEF, UNESCO, and several countries. Outlays on education were 19 percent of gross domestic product in fiscal year 1998/1999 (UNESCO,2000) . Only parents of children who attend private schools, which also receive some government funding, pay tuition fees.
Curriculum guidelines for each subject - such as arts, literature, mathematics, sciences, and Arabic - are determined through a system of committees at the state level. Each subject-specific committee is comprised of consultants, supervisors, experts, professors of education and experienced teachers. Once the committee has reached agreement, the curriculum guidelines are then referred to the Supreme Council of Pre-university Education for official release. Each governorate is responsible for implementation of the guidelines.
The curriculum is generally very similar in both educational systems with the exception of a stronger focus on religious studies in the Al Azhar system. Students are required to memorize twenty sections of the Holy Koran in primary school and the entire Holy Koran in preparatory school.
Standards for Student Performance and Gateways to Promotion and Higher Education
Promotion. Promotion exams are administered to each student in Grades 2, 4, and 5. A student must obtain the Basic Education Certificate before proceeding to the second level.
Examinations. The first public examination is administered at the end of Grade 8. A student's score determines two things: receipt of the Basic Education Certificate and the type of second level school in which the student will enroll. Only the top scoring students are eligible to matriculate in the general academic secondary schools and then a university. A similar test is administered at the end of Grade 11 for those students in the general academic secondary schools. The score on this test determines in which university, as well as in which program, a student can enroll.
Because of the high-stakes nature of both these exams, they create a highly competitive and anxious atmosphere (Mahrouse, 1995). They have also led to the creation of a market for study books and private coaching.
Access to Higher Education. The score on the secondary school leaving examination determines eligibility for entrance into the secular university system. Traditionally, only students attending general academic secondary schools were eligible to matriculate. However, some students from the vocational schools have been allowed to enroll since 1970.
In order to enroll in the Al-Azhar University, students must hold a Secondary Certificate of Al-Azhar, a certificate of Recitation specialization from the Koranic Recitation Institutes, or hold an Al-Azhar Training Diploma.
Teacher Training and Certification
Preparation for teaching at both the first and second levels of the secular system requires the completion of teacher training courses at universities, which are typically four years in length. Those who wish to teach within the Al-Azhar system must be trained within that system at the teacher training institutes, Koran Recitation Institutes, or the Al-Azhar University.
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Central Intelligence Agency (1999). The World Factbook 1999. Available at: www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/. (Reviewed 20 July 2000).
"Education and Scientific Research." (2000) In Eighteen Years of Achievements: 1981-1999. Available at: www.us.sis.gov.eg/public/18years/html/frame.htm. (Reviewed 20 July 2000).
"Education & Scientific Research" (n.d.) Section 9 of Chapter 4 in Egypt and the 21st Century. Available at: sis.gov.eg/egyptinf/economy/html/e21cent/html/ch049txt.htm. (Reviewed 20 July 2000).
"General Orientations." Chapter 3 in Egypt and the 21st Century (n.d.). Available at: sis.gov.eg/egyptinf/economy/html/e21cent/html/ch03txt.htm. (Reviewed 20 July 2000).
Islamic Research Academy (n.d.). al-Azhar al-Sharif. Available at: www.alazhar.org/english/index.htm. (Reviewed 20 July 2000).
Mahrouse, M.E. (1995). "Egypt." In T.N. Postlethwaite (ed.), International Encyclopedia of National Systems of Education (Second Edition). Cambridge, UK: Pergamon.
US Agency for International Development. Perspectives from the Field, Girls' Education: Investing in Egypt's Future (n.d.). Available at: http://www.usaid.gov/regions/ane/newpages/perspectives/egypt/eggirlsed.htm (Reviewed 02 November 2000)
US Agency for International Development. Congressional Presentation 2000. Available at: http://www.usaid.gov/pubs/cp2000/ane/egypt.html (Reviewed 06 November 2000)
United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Education For All 2000 Assessment :Country Reports, Egypt. Available at: http://www2.unesco.org/wef/countryreports/egypt/rapport_1_1.htm (Reviewed 06 November 2000)