Egyptian security forces arrested seventeen high school students during a student protest in front of the Ministry of Education on Tuesday, said the students’ lawyer, Ahmed Osman.
Eleven of the students, including five girls, were released, while six boys have yet to be taken to the prosecutor general.
“They protested under the slogan ‘fix the educational system’ and did not have any political agenda, so we don’t know why they were arrested,” said Osman.
The student protesters were demanding a change in how grade averages would be determined. They argue that, within the current system, grade averages accumulated from the totality of high school courses, coupled with the high cut-offs to get into certain university disciplines, is unfair. Instead, they propose that grade point averages be gathered from subjects that would be relevant to one’s chosen university major.
The students were also protesting what they viewed to be “generally corrupt academic policies” in the country, and an “incompetent” academic curriculum.
“Education [in Egypt] is useless. There is no comprehension, no understanding, we are asked only to memorise, to just study the book. The exams are too difficult and there are too many cases of collective cheating,” said Ahmed El-Masry, a high school student who was detained two years ago.
El-Masry has not been allowed back to school since his release. He spent the past two years requesting re-entry into school, but his efforts have been in vain.
“Up until yesterday, our demands were only for them to teach us properly. We want to learn,” said El-Masry. “We didn’t bring up any chants relating to detained colleagues. The protest had no relation to politics, yet we still met with arrest, beatings, and abuse.”
He added that Youssef El-Emirati, 16, was photographed being beaten on the day of the protest by two “thugs”and a policeman, together. “This isn’t the way to treat students,” El-Masry said.
For years, highschool exams in Egypt have been fraught with complaints of incompetence and many incidents of cheating.
“The students of Egypt have the right to ask for a better educational system,” said Dr. Reda Mossad, head of the education sector in the Ministry of Education. “The educational system in Egypt is out of date and it is one of the worst systems in the world. I think this is society’s fault because the society is clinging on to this system, and does not want to change it,”
The arrested students were first taken to the Sayeda Zeinab police station and will face prosecution at the Zeinhom Court.
“Asking for your rights is legitimate, but breaking the law is a crime,” he said, commenting on the Ministry of Interior’s arrest of 17 students.
He added that the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Interior could look into helping these students get released because they were ultimately asking for a valid demand, and because they are young.
“They are looking to participate with the state, because the political system has changed with the 30 June revolution, and students are looking for this revolution in the educational system as well,” Mossad said.
Since 30 June, thousands of students have been detained, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
“Since 2011, and even before that, students have been getting killed and detained in schools and in universities but the ministry has done nothing. The detained students have not even been allowed to take their exams,” El-Masry said, adding the Ministers of Education should be held accountable.