Index / Education
Up until the 19th century, education in Egypt was largely the responsibility of the religious communities. Both the mosques and the Coptic churches had basic schools, which in addition to religious education, offered instruction in Arabic and simple Mathematics.
The most basic primary school. Near Luxor, Egypt. Photo: EGraf
American University in Cairo. Photo: Chrispitality
Some form of central control was first introduced early in the 19th century, when Muhammad Ali established higher schools to train cadres for the civil administration and the military. Some 50 years later, Ismail Pasha expanded the educational system to include primary, secondary and higher institutions at several locations across Egypt. The first school for girls was established in 1873. Still, schools were not available to a large part of the young. Even around 1950, less than 50% of children attended school, and more than 75% of all adults were illiterate.
Following the republican revolution in 1952, real reforms came about. The first priority was given to building more schools, in order to secure general access. The reforms were carried through well into the 1970's, when they came to a halt, long before any of the goals had been achieved. Even in the 1980's, one out of 6 children did not attend school. In 1981, 9 years of primary education was made compulsory, yet the passing from 6th to 7th grade required the succeeding on a special exam. Many children, even now, do not complete 9 years of school.
One of Egypt's main challenges is shortage of teachers, this problem is precarious in rural areas. There is a common conception that teaching is of low prestige, and although salaries have been raised in recent years, they remain comparatively low. Also, many Egyptian teachers have travelled to other Arab countries, where conditions may be considerable better. Through the 1980's, some 30,000 teachers left Egypt every year.
The development for higher education has been more successful, and Egypt now has several good universities, receiving both foreign students, and graduate young men and women that find work all across the Arabic world. Still, many of the non-elite universities are of inferior quality, and quite inadequate compared to Western standards.
All levels of public education, from pre-school to the completion of a university degree, are free for all citizens. Expenditure on education is estimated at 4.2% of GDP in 2008, $230/capita.
Egypt has a parallel educational system, growing from traditions, as well as the modern-day tension between Islamic scholars and the secular government and their Western-inspired school system: The Muslims schools, known as the Al-Azhar system, offer a clear alternative to that of the public schools, with a strong focus on Islamic subjects and the promotion of conservative values. Girls and boys attend separate classes. Today, there are more than 8,000 Al-Azhar schools across the country, with about 2 million pupils.
This system has three stages of education: 4 year primary; 3 year preparatory; and 3 year secondary. Pupils completing the secondary stage, are secured access into the Al-Azhar University.
Literacy in Egypt remains a challenge, now reflecting the many years of poor education in rural areas. There are also substantial gendder differences, about 60% of women can read and write compared to 80% among men. This relates largely to the the part of the population above the age of 40, among the younger there is much less gender difference.
The earliest programs to fight illiteracy goes back to the 1930's, but these were poorly carried through. A massive campaign came first in 1993, that aimed at training young adults (15-35 years).
Egypt has quite well-developed institutions for pupils with special needs, those hearing, seeing and mentally impaired. Instructions are provided at all levels.
Between ages 4 and 6, children can attend voluntary kindergartens with a pedagogical program. Up to 25% of Egyptian kids do this in the late 2000's.
Education within the public program is compulsory for all children between 6 and 15 years of age, 9 years. It is divided into two sections, first 6, then 3 years. In many areas enrollment is far from 100%, and there are rural areas where some 50% of all eligible children do not attend school. For Egypt in total, about 95% attend primary school.
There are both private and public, about 8% attend private schools, which in many cases offer superior quality to public schools. Reports show that quality of education is quite variable, many public schools are good, some most inadequate.
Drop out rates are high, and only 50% of children complete the first 6 years. More girls quit than boys, early marriage remains a reason for this even now that minimum legal age to marry has been set to 16.
Completion of the last 3 years of primary education results in the Basic Education Completion Certificate or the Certificate in Vocational Basic Education, used for entry into secondary schools.
Most public secondary education programs requires the completion of 9 basic years of primary education, and as many as 70-80% continue on to secondary. There is a relative equilibrium between the percentage of boys and girls at secondary level.
There are 2 directions: General; and Vocational and Technical. About 1/3 of secondary pupils follow the General, 2/3 the Vocational and Technical.
General secondary, which prepares for university studies, lasts 3 years. The concluding exam and degree is called Certificate of General Secondary Education, which is one of the requirements for admission into universities.
Vocational and technical, which is a complete degree preparing for work life, lasts 3 to 5 years. These schools are divided into Industrial; Commercial; and Agricultural. Many vocational programs are offered for children that have not completed the 9 years, the numbers attending these programs are quite high.
Today, Egypt has 34 universities, of which 18 are public. Most of the growth in the number of universities happened before 1990, when there already were 14 public universities. Presently, more than 25% go to university, but only half graduate. About 40% of Egyptian students are women.
Public universities are free, the only fee paid are the rather modest registration fees.
The quality of Egyptian universities varies extremely. Some offer good education, some poor. The best universities meet high international standards. The largest university is the Al-Azhar, with 350,000 students is one of the universities making a claim on being the oldest in the world, as it was founded in 972. It was until quite recently an exclusively religious university, today it has included a slightly wider array of programs. The foremost of universities is Cairo University, founded in 1908, with 230,000 students.
Institutions have little to say in defining the curriculum and educational programs. Presently there is an undergoing program to reform higher education.
Since 2002, 12 new private universities have been established, these come as a response to the demands for specializations as well as for better quality. These universities require tuition fees, making them available only to the affluent part of the Egyptian society.
Arabic is the language of instruction in humanities, social studies, education, law, commerce, economics and political sciences, information, social service, tourism and hotels. English is widely used in the faculties of medicine, pharmacology, dentistry science and engineering.