I was sitting in a café just yesterday, listening to a group of Egyptian youth discuss the role of education in the region. Their argument went something like this: because Egypt now uses the American system of education, no longer do Egyptians have the mathematical knowledge to succeed in the world. While they are probably correct, to some degree, that the American system does not emphasize math as much as some nations around the world, it is hard to believe that the reason Egypt is the way it is, is because their students are not taking enough math.
As they spoke these words, I remembered a friend who taught elementary school last year in Cairo. She had to teach geography. When they got to Israel and Palestine, the other teachers in the school told her not to discuss them. However, being the good activist she was, she went ahead and asked the students where Palestine was. The response was that it was next to the Philippines; was the Philippines; or they had no clue. Israel. Well, let’s not even begin to explain what they believed.
Math is important, sure, however, it seems to be a larger problem if students don’t know where Palestine is. It is a border country with Egypt no matter how one looks at the map. Only five hours away is Gaza. If students do not know the countries that border Egypt, then how can we expect them to understand the dynamics of this region?
It seems, with the recent decision not to teach human rights in schools recently decided, that Egyptians are falling victim to ignorance. With approximately 50 percent of Egyptians unable to read, they must get their information from those individuals who can read. Basically, Egypt still is an oral society; people transmit ideas through speech. With this being the case, there needs to be a revolution in education in order to rectify the problems.
All Egyptians deserve the right to learn real, accurate geography. Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel, therefore acknowledging its existence. So why then can teachers not explain to their students where Israel is, or what it means to be Jewish? The same teacher, who was not allowed to teach about Israel, was not allowed to tell her students what the Holocaust was. Because, of course, inevitably, Israel would have had to have been brought up.
By forbidding the discussion about Israel, the Holocaust and Judaism, the persistence of conspiracy theories abound. Undoubtedly, the Egyptian government does not need any more conspiracy theories going around in this country. There are plenty already. Instead, what needs to be done is a full revamp of how students are taught about their history. Yes, that includes teaching about Israel. It won’t be pretty and parents will probably throw a huge fit over the teacher of a nation many believe to be the enemy. But, according to the peace treaty former President Sadat signed, Israel is no longer the enemy.
Math is important and students should be able to have the best math education here in Egypt. But, it seems necessary to teach the Egyptian population about the history and geography of the world. These ideas are vital to the very existence of the country and the future of the nation.
If we live in a country that doesn’t allow for the teaching of the Holocaust, Israel and Palestine, or the real history, we will continue to fall into the belief that Israel and Palestine are the enemies and won’t be able to see the reality of what has occurred in this part of the world.
It can no longer be accepted that Egyptians do not know what it means to be Jewish; who and where Palestine is; the history of Israel and the involvement of the Egyptian state in its development. Without a concerted effort to break these taboos, Egypt will continue to turn more radical and will gain more adherents to radical forms of faith, be it Christian or Islam. That is unacceptable if we live in a nation that is supposedly moving forward on reforms and social justice. If Egypt recognizes the state of Israel, why can’t that be taught to its children?