Overhauling the education system has remained on the Egyptian government’s long priority list following the 2011 revolution, and for good reason. In 2015, 33% of the 92m-strong population were under the age of 15, according to the World Bank. The Strategic Plan for Pre-University Education Reform 2014-30 published by the Ministry of Education (MoE) states that every child has an equal right to receive a quality education in accordance with international standards, thus allowing every child to contribute effectively to the social and economic development of the country and to compete regionally and globally. In cooperation with public and private actors, Egypt continues to work towards this goal by increasing access and the quality of teaching.
Overall, according to the most recent data from UNESCO, adult literacy rates have risen steadily from 44% in 1990 to an estimated 73.8% in 2015. For youth – those between 15 and 24 years – UNESCO projected the 2015 literacy rate at 91.8%. As with most human development indicators, the lowest literacy rates are historically found in Upper Egypt.
Primary & Secondary School
Enrolment in pre-university education is on the rise, especially when it comes to primary schooling. The most recent data from UNICEF puts the primary school net enrolment rate at 97% in 2014, up from 88% in 2001, according to historical World Bank data. For secondary school, UNICEF reports the 2014 net enrolment rate at 80%, which, while not as high, puts Egypt well above the MENA region’s average of 69%. However, matching this access with quality of the instruction remains elusive. In the World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report 2016-17” Egypt was ranked 134th out of 138 countries for quality of primary education. Part of this is due to a lack of resources and investment in schools that are getting progressively overcrowded. According to UNICEF, quoting MoE figures, at the primary level, the classroom density was 44.2 students per class during the 2014/15 school year, up from 42.8 in 2013/14.
Students can also opt to participate in the 12-year Al Azhar system, an Islamic studies-focused programme. Graduates of Al Azhar secondary schools are automatically admitted for study at Al Azhar University. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), in 2014/15, 9% of the students were enrolled in the pre-university Al Azhar system.
As reported by CAPMAS, 1.9m students (988,402 women and 929,795 men) were enrolled in 24 public universities during the 2014/15 school year – including the 304,072 enrolled at Al Azhar – compared with 83,423 attending 19 private universities. In addition to private universities, there are also other private institutions, covering trades such as computer science, administrative services and accounting.
“Private universities accept a relatively small number of students each year meaning there is still a large pool of qualified applicants to choose from,” Ahmed Attia Seida, president of October 6 University, told OBG.
Ghada Barsoum, assistant professor at the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo, described the post-secondary education process to OBG as a “forking stage”. The placement exam – the Thanaweya Amma – essentially serves as the only determining factor for how students are permitted to continue their education. Those who score the highest receive coveted – and free – spots at public universities such as the prestigious Cairo University, while those who score the lowest usually go into lower-tier institutions, including private demand-absorbing institutions. Students who join technical and vocational education and training (TVET) are forked into this path by school year 9. These students come mainly from low-income families or rural areas. A 2015 OECD report recommended the government renew the TVET, sector including enhancing the status of TVET qualifications, upgrading facilities and promoting the value of technical skills more widely (see analysis).
Barsoum highlighted the need to reform the governance structure of the Egyptian higher education system itself. With rigid oversight from the Ministry of Higher Education, the system leaves individual institutions with little control over decisions on curricula, faculty hiring and other critical decisions. This makes starting the new institutions that would relieve some of the burden on current institutions a difficult and highly negotiated process. “You want to encourage private players to come into the system, and if you need these private players, you have to provide them with enough space to be responsive to the needs of the labour market,” said Barsoum. Indeed, the 2015 OECD report recommended this course of action, stating that permitting individual institutions to determine the mix of their student body across fields of study, for example, would address the issue of the burden put on overtaxed government schools.
Employment As A Goal
International organisations, including the British Council and UNICEF, have long cited a disconnect between the training graduates have received in Egypt’s education system and the needs of the job market as one of the key reasons behind the high level of youth unemployment in Egypt, which as of 2014 was at 42%, according to the World Bank. INJAZ Al Arab, a non-profit organisation that promotes youth education and training in MENA, published survey findings in December 2015 showing that 80% of new graduates in the region are leaving university unprepared for the workforce. The researchers suggested that by failing to guide students to consider how their education will realistically translate into a job, these systems are not efficiently contributing to solving the unemployment crisis. Only 31% of respondents claimed to have selected their degree based on perceived career options in that field.
Offering better private sector experience options is also highlighted as an area of focus, even for job seekers who are looking to work in the public sector. “Egyptian ministries would benefit from hiring people with private sector experience, given the broad skillsets available there. This would also help establish a more business-friendly government and more efficient bureaucratic environment,” Ali El Meligy, executive director of Eslsca Business School, told OBG.
Similarly, according to findings in the US-based Population Council’s “Survey of Young People in Egypt,” the proportion of both men and women reporting an inability to find jobs that matched their qualifications increased from 8% in 2009 to 13.8% in 2014. The survey highlights the fact that youth have struggled the most to find stable employment in the labour market since the 2011 uprising. Of the non-students aged 15-29 surveyed in 2014, there was an overall decline in labour force participation from 51.7% in 2009 to 49.6% in 2014.
The strained resources of the state-provided schools has bred a growing private tutoring system in which parents pay considerable sums to fill gaps left throughout the often inadequate formal school day. According to the most recent figures from CAPMAS, in 2012/13, households with members enrolled in an educational institution spent a larger percentage of income on private tutoring (42%) than school fees (38.8%). A 2015 research paper published by the Egyptian Centre for Economic Studies – “Private Tutoring in Egypt: Quality Education in a Deadlock between Low Income, Status and Motivation” – stated that changing this will require interventions, including higher salaries and increased accountability for public school teachers as well as greater parental involvement.
There have been entrepreneurial initiatives to address the challenge of insufficient quality public education. One such effort was the in 2013 launch of Nafham (“we understand” in Arabic), an Arabic version of the international online education system Khan Academy. The service now has over 500,000 users and offers over 23,000 educational videos covering the curricula of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria and Kuwait.
One state priority has been the establishment of designated science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) schools, which admit students based on their scores on the national middle-school final exams and additional admissions tests. In April 2016 El Hilali El Sherbini, then-minister of education and technical education, told local press that to date the government has established nine STEM schools at a cost of approximately LE100m (equivalent to $5.3m as of December 2016) per school. The classes are intended to be capped at around 150 students, who will have access to sophisticated technology in the fields of chemistry, electronics and manufacturing, along with individual laptops and student housing. The ministry announced plans to have a STEM school in each of the 27 governo-rates by 2018. International donors have also supported programmes to encourage STEM education. Two pilot STEM high schools that USAID helped establish in Cairo were the inspiration for the government expansion of such institutions. Demand for STEM school slots appears to be high. USAID reported that in the 2015/16 academic year, the schools they supported received 4300 applications for around 1000 places.
Despite the fact that there is still a way to go, the Egyptian government has made some public strides. Education has been announced as one of the pillars of the state’s Egypt Vision 2030 development strategy, with a particular focus on increasing the percentage of accredited pre-university schools, the literacy rate and Egypt’s international ranking on the primary education quality index. This commitment to education was also enshrined in Egypt’s new constitution, approved in January 2014, which commits the government to spending no less than 4% of GDP on education. The updated constitution also extended guaranteed education from the primary to secondary level. According to 2015 figures from UNICEF, in FY 2014/15, 12% of government expenditure and 4.7% of GDP went to the education sector. In 2015 Hany Kadry Dimian, then minister of finance, announced that the government aims to increase spending on education to 6% of GDP during FY 2016/17. With access being practically addressed, the ongoing focus is on quality.
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