Cairo, Egypt: Wafaa Bassiouny’s six-year campaign for the right to educate children at home in Egypt has propelled her from academic pariah to mini celebrity, as the nation’s broken schools fail another generation.
“I get daily inquiries from parents weighing homeschooling,” said Ms Bassiouny, who is writing a second book on the subject after initially being rebuffed by professors overseeing her research.
“The problems of education in Egypt are so overwhelming more people are accepting of the idea.”
Egypt’s crowded, underfunded classrooms are emerging as a key test for president Abdel Fattah El Sisi and his vow to educate a workforce that can drag the economy from its worst slump in two decades. Employers bemoan a talent crunch that they say Mr El Sisi must prioritise in an agenda that so far has focused on luring foreign investment.
“We have a machine that grinds students to memorise stuff and graduate while not having the basic skills,” said Anis Aclimandos, chairman of Education for Employment, which trains young Egyptians to enter the workforce. “Young people get what is called an education that’s supposed to get you a job and end up standing in the unemployment line.”
Egypt ranked 51st in an Economist Intelligence Unit survey of 60 nations’ ability to train and retain skilled employees published in May 2011, three months after a youth uprising fueled by anger over unemployment and thwarted ambition ended Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
“People didn’t take to the streets to just change politicians,” Abdel Hafiz Tayel, head of the Egyptian centre for education rights in Cairo, said. “They wanted social justice, access to education and health care, and very little has been done.”
A third of state school teachers do not turn up for work, while more than 70 per cent of students rely on private tuition to learn the basics.
Playgrounds, let alone music or art facilities, are rare. Around one in five buildings is unfit for use, with poor water and sanitation systems, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.
“With little state investment, no improvement in curricula, poor pay for teachers and bad school infrastructure, parents are looking for alternatives,” Mr Tayel said.
Egypt invests about 4,733 Egyptian pounds (Dh2,278) a year per student during primary and secondary education, according to the Egyptian centre for economic and social rights.
The average among the developed countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development is $9,252. Authorities say they plan to raise spending on education and health care to as much as 10 per cent of GDP in two years.
Education minister Moheb El Rafei said in March that education is a “top priority” for the government. He pointed to overcrowded classrooms, school violence and a growing dependence on private lessons as areas of concern.
President Gamal Abdel Nasser introduced free education as he sought to modernise Egypt from the 1950s. The curriculum became a model for the region, with governments employing Egyptian teachers. At home, as demand outstripped resources, the quality of schools deteriorated.
The answer for those who could afford it was private tutoring to supplement state lessons, something Egyptians spend 16 billion pounds a year on, nearly half of household expenditure. Among the better off, private colleges are now popular and interest in home or online learning is growing.
“For some parents now,” Ms Bassiouny said, “the risk of homeschooling their children is nothing compared to that of sending them to schools.”
© The National
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