Egypt’s overcrowded schools stay bottom of the class

11 Feb 2018

The second semester of the school year has just begun in Egypt, but for pupils and their parents it means a return to the daily struggle of overcrowded classrooms, underpaid teachers and a dilapidated buildings.
Egypt has around 60,000 public, private and international schools, but says it needs to build many more to provide children with a better education.
Public schools in particular are riddled with problems. There is severe overcrowding and a lack of play areas or yards. Some schools have to be divided into two or three shorter daily sessions to accommodate all the children.
“My children struggle to take notes and it is impossible for them to focus on the teacher because there are just too many people in the room,” said Ahmed, a father of three children who attend Omar Ebn El-Khatab public school in Cairo. “The teacher does not care about his pupils, and the pupils do not concentrate.”
In the latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index, Egypt ranked 133rd out of 137 countries for the quality of its primary education and 130th for the quality of its education system overall. Morocco’s education system was ranked 120th and Jordan was 43rd.
Parents say the Egyptian school curriculums are sorely behind and the quality of teaching needs to be assessed.
But the biggest immediate challenge is overcrowding. Classrooms in private and international schools usually have no more than 20 students, whereas classes in government schools can have a total of up to 180 pupils. Parents regularly complain that their children have to stand during classes.
One solution that has been brought forward by the Parliament in January is the implementation of an online education system to reduce the presence of students in schools.
The Ministry of Education is also considering increasing school fees by 20 Egyptian pounds (about $1) per year per child, which would be a major obstacle for many low-income families with more than one child.
Many parents are forced to hire private tutors for hundreds of pounds a month so that their children are educated in smaller groups.
“We already struggle to pay our children’s school fees,” said Sanaa, a mother-of-five in South Cairo. “Add to that the fortune we pay in private lessons and we can barely afford to live. I don’t know if we’ll be able to cope with the increased wages.” Three of her children go to Khattab El-Sobki primary school, and the other two are in secondary schools, which are usually less crowded.
There have been several protests in the past few years by teachers calling for better pay and conditions and lamenting that they had to supplement their regular wage by giving additional lessons in the evening.
At the other end of the scale, private and international schools face their own problems. One parent with children attending a private school in the more upscale Maadi neighborhood in Cairo said he pays a lot of money for his son to receive a better education.
The father, who preferred to keep his identity and the school anonymous, said he pays about 40,000 pounds a year in tuition for his only son, but still has to deal with poor-quality teachers.
A teacher at a private school in Cairo told Arab News: “There is no motivation for me to improve because my monthly salary is not sufficient.
“As is the case with many teachers, I am forced to give private lessons after school just to make ends meet.”
Teachers complain of elitism when it comes to hiring. Most private schools bring in teachers from abroad, tempting them with relative freedom in the classroom to teach as they wish and a much higher salary.
Egyptian teachers said this causes tension and leaves them demotivated.
Helen, a primary teacher who moved to Egypt five years ago from the UK, said “a local teacher makes between 2,500 to 7,000 pounds a month, whereas on average I’ve been paid give or take 20,000 pounds a month plus living allowance.
“It can be quite awkward, especially in one school where we were paid in cash for a while,” she said.


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