By Ahmed Daoud
A state-owned company with EGP 100m in capital, set to act as a subsidiary of the Ministry of Education, has been established to oversee processes which are not currently overseen by the Authority for Educational Buildings. Such areas include security, cleanliness, and maintenance as well as some construction work in the nation’s schools.
The new company will be announced this week, according to Minister of Education Mahmoud Abo El Nasr. He added that some ministry properties and land will be offered in a public tender for companies to manage and market.
He explained that these allocations include the Little Egypt area in Konia Village, located in 6th of October City. Little Egypt includes many replicated Egyptian monuments, such as the pyramids and the sphinx, as well as the Saladin Citadel and Pharaonic temples on an area of 400 acres.
Abo El Nasr explained that 6th of October Educational City and Ismailia Educational City will also be open to bidding. The 6th of October Educational City has a capacity of 800 hotel rooms, various stadiums, and many unused tracts of land.
Justifying the ministry’s move to offer its property up for bids, Abo El Nasr stated that the ministry was unproductive and inefficient in efforts to generate income from this land, a process which requires promotional and marketing activities that are not within the bounds of the ministry’s role. As a result, Abo El Nasr believes that private companies would manage these properties better. He said: “The aim is to offer education in order to achieve the greatest possible benefits and increase the ministry’s income.”
Meanwhile, EGP 1bn will be allocated to appoint 30,000 assistant teachers. This will be in accordance with the framework recently announced by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Teacher’s Day, in which Al-Sisi will reward outstanding students with Suez Canal Investment Certificates.
Abo El Nasr stated that the ministry is currently preparing the laws and regulations required for the establishment of a separate Ministry for Technical Education and Vocational Training following the Prime Minister’s approval of a proposal already submitted. This new ministry will be integrated into the government as soon as possible, Abo El Nasr stated. He believes it is important to establish this body because it will benefit at least 2.5 million students who need technical training at factories and training centers to accomplish their goals.
The ministry is also working to provide tablets for pre-university students over a period of three years, but will not discard textbooks completely. Abu El Nasr stated that the cost of printing textbooks amounts to EGP 1.2bn annually and that production is carried out through a tender. This year the majority of applications for the tender came from both governmental and private printing houses.
Schools are very much lacking basic needs, Abo El Nasr stated. There are currently over 10,000 schools with an estimated value of more than EGP 50bn.
While the ministry accepts subsidies for certain sectors, Abu El Nasr said that the ministry budget amounts to EGP 87bn, 90% of which is allocated to provide salaries for employees. The remaining 10% is not nearly enough to provide the investments necessary to develop education.
The minister emphasised the state’s commitment to free education, which is guaranteed despite the current difficult economic conditions. He said: “There is no intention to impose additional expenses [on public education], in accordance with the constitution and the law.”
In a meeting with President Al-Sisi, Abo El Nasr touched upon the problem of a land shortage required to build schools. The President then issued a statement suggesting the formation of a joint committee that would include the ministries of Education, Housing, and Endowments to allocate land for these schools. The ministry will assess these new schools, of which 30% will be experimental schools and 70% completely free.
The Authority for Educational Buildings is allocated around EGP 2.3bn annually to establish schools. The definitive number of schools to be built during the 2014/2015 fiscal year is currently being determined, but figures currently stand at 500 to 540 schools.
Abo El Nasr stated that the ministry signed a protocol of cooperation with the Ministries of Tourism, Local Development, Endowments, Youth, Sports and Culture, the Environment, and Higher Education and Scientific Research to exchange expertise and skilled manpower in order to develop and implement programs and projects in all fields.
Approximately EGP 890m was allocated for the school nutrition program for the coming year, compared to EGP 470m last year, in addition to a €200m grant from the World Health Organization (WHO) over three years. Another project targeted at increasing interest in online education entitled ‘Smart Learning’ has been launched with the help of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is valued at EGP 680m.
The minister stressed that the next school year will see a greater interest in sports activities and various types of art, pointing out that the curriculum has become less academically intensive.
He added that the ministry has increased the number of classes by 44,000 this year to ease the density of students in each class in accordance with the ministry’s strategic plan. The goal is for density to reach less than 45 students per class before the year 2017.
Meanwhile, 1,150 new schools have been built and efforts are being made to provide financial allocations for these schools so that they may begin operating. Abo El Nasr stressed that in many rural areas, the distance between home and educational institutions can be large, which is why more schools must be built.
Abo El Nasr has appealed to teachers not to deviate from the standard curriculum in order to spread political views, stating that this is out of their legal bounds and can result in their dismissal if egregious.
Lastly, he added that private schools must notify the ministry of their expenses so they can be held accountable in the future.