CAIRO: The multitude of initiatives to reform Egypt s educational system gives some indication of its present state. While over half the country is illiterate, those young people who have the fortune of a complete primary, secondary and university education still face significant challenges upon entry to the workforce.
Yasser Abdel Wahab, Intel s education manager for Egypt and North Africa, shares his views on education in Egypt in an interview with The Daily Star Egypt. Abdel Wahab oversees Intel s basic and higher education projects in the region, including the company s programs for teacher training, science fairs and university curriculum development in Egypt.
Abdel Wahab himself is the product of the local public schools. I m a telecommunications engineer by certificate from Cairo University, says Abdel Wahab. I graduated from Egyptian schools and have learned everything in Egyptian universities. But fortunately, I joined multinationals and I found another place to learn what I missed in these places.
His primary critique relates to secondary education. We missed a lot, Abdel Wahab explains. We missed the creativity; we missed the teamwork skills. We learned how to compete with each other [and] how not to share information with each other.
The emphasis on rote learning creates an unproductive environment where student is set against student. It is a memorization only, says Abdel Wahab. The Egyptian and Middle Eastern systems of education are memorization; they are not a digestion and application to life.
There are nevertheless a number of positive developments on the basic education front. Lately, [the government] started to implement very interesting programs, says Abdel Wahab, and these programs are really supporting all the directions that we are working in.
However, the vast array of projects undertaken by the government, corporations and international organizations has resulted in redundant schemes. They really have to go through a research, assessment and evaluation [of] what they have versus what they need, says Abdel Wahab, because they might have the same program and the same results from the same program and they are implementing it twice.
The government can work to optimize expenditure in this regard by keeping track of educational initiatives and advising corporations and development agencies on how to direct their efforts.
There is, however, decent monitoring of the results of teacher training programs by the National Center for Examination and Education Evaluation.
This is a government center but completely independent, Abdel Wahab explains. They do the evaluation and they have three points of evaluation. They evaluate the teacher on the first day they come into the class, they evaluate the teacher directly after the first day and they evaluate the teacher six months [later]… From this, we measure the quality of the implementation. And they are doing this from day one. They deliver a quarterly report about the impact and a monthly report about the number [of teachers] trained and the status in each governorate.
Meanwhile, the magnitude of Egypt s student population means all stakeholders have to participate in the process of education and training. The government cannot support everything on their own, says Abdel Wahab.
In terms of teaching, while many university professors benefit from education abroad and consequently have close contacts with foreign institutions, primary and secondary school teachers are more isolated and this lack of exposure makes it difficult for them to upgrade their teaching methods and curriculums without some assistance.
At the university level, science and engineering curriculums are usually up-to-date, incorporating the latest technologies from abroad and localizing the program of study.
Localizing is, for example, going and getting technical dual-core curriculum from [the University of California at] Berkley in the United States, explains Abdel Wahab. And this curriculum doesn t fit exactly with the direction of the dual-core industry in Egypt and the direction of the consumer in Egypt. So why do I have to teach the full semester to the kids? I can change, I can modify, I can add on the Egyptian flavor.
But higher education suffers from a shortage of laboratories and research facilities. The problem is, they don t have the laboratories, they don t have the research resources to go into details and further steps in these technologies, says Abdel Wahab.
The overcrowding of universities is also a fundamental problem. You don t need all these doctors every year, says Abdel Wahab. You don t need all these engineers every year. You don’t need all these physicians every year. You need to utilize what you have. You still have qualified doctors that are unemployed.