Egypt's education system needs an overhaul

Wed Oct 6, 2010 11:06am EDT
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By Marwa Awad and Alexander Dziadosz

CAIRO (Reuters) - Sawsan Gomaa, 18, thought memorizing vocabulary and grammar from the ministry textbook would be enough to ace Egypt's yearly national language exam for high school graduates, the main gateway to university.

After all, that's how everyone did it.

But this year's exam took her by surprise, requiring tough translations and idiomatic phrases not taught in class. She was caught out by what experts say are disjointed education reforms that have changed exams but not teaching methods.

"These questions were definitely not from the curriculum we studied," a tearful Gomaa said.

Egypt's secondary education needs an overhaul, teachers and employers say. High school teaching, based mostly on rote, does not give students practical skills, leaving them unprepared for college and hindering their transition to the workplace.

If the Arab world's most populous country is to extend a run of economic growth, now edging back to 6 percent a year, the roughly 300,000 university graduates churned out annually must be better prepared.

"Improving the quality of education is the number one factor that needs immediate attention. There is a unified call in Egypt for improving primary and secondary education to prepare people for the workforce," said Angus Blair, head of research at investment bank Beltone Financial.

Overcrowded classrooms, poor attendance and a lack of good libraries or office space for teachers are problems that run through the system from the earliest years to final classes. Facilities like computers and science labs are often rundown if they exist at all in state schools.   Continued...

<p>Egyptian school students attend class at a school in a Giza neighbourhood on the outskirts of Cairo, September 28, 2010. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany</p>