By Mohamed Ibrahim
Education in Egypt has been further dented by the unrest that has engulfed the country since the start of the Arab Spring in January 2011.
The education process has been largely disrupted since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak that year. Reforming the education system in the most populous Arab nation had already been a constant promise on electoral platforms in parliamentary and presidential elections.
Thousands upon thousands of students graduate from university in Egypt every year with no prospect of finding a job. This aggravates the problem of unemployment which has been on the rise for many years, reaching 13.10% at the end of 2014.
In Egypt, there is less emphasis on vocational education which is usually frowned upon by society as far interior to university learning. This culture has led to a situation where parents may be keen for their children to join colleges with no prospect for a future job, rather than enrol in vocational courses and learn a skill.
The market has not been able to absorb the large number of university graduates. An estimated 75% of Egyptians are under the age of 25.
Part of the flawed Egyptian education system is the poor qualification of teachers, highly congested classes, rampant private tuition, and rigidity. These problems have been compounded by the lack of security that followed the removal of President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011.
The tumultuous conditions the country has gone through after the removal of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from power in July 2013 following mass protests against his government have made things even worse.
The Muslim Brotherhood has a noticeable strong base among university students. After the army-led unseating of president Morsi, who hailed from the group, they started to turn their eyes to universities as venues for their demonstrations against the military authorities and put pressure on the state.
Their protests have often turned violent, and several students have been killed in clashes with the security forces. This has led resulted in a remarkably absence from students for fear for their lives and disruption to classes. This was particularly clear in the case of Al-Azhar University, the religious learning seat of Sunni Islam.
With the universities becoming flashpoints, the authorities appear to have decided it was wise to shorten the academic year. This has complicated matters for students, because it had a direct impact on the curricula taught to them at the various education stages, starting from the preparatory through the secondary to university stages.
There have been several complaints that questions in exams about areas of learning not covered by teachers because of the shortening of the academic terms.
Disruption has also affected schools. In North Sinai, where the army is combating a wave of terrorist militancy, schools were closed for some time for security reasons.
A recent comment by a religious education official about a case of mass cheating in a religious institute showed the relevance of the problem to the recent circumstances.
Muhammad Fadl, an undersecretary of the Azharite Institute in Giza Governorate, told a TV programme that that the reason behind the mass cheating cases at the institute recently was because teachers could not “enter classes since the beginning of the academic year”.
“The students are excused,” Fadl told Akhir Al-Nahar talk show broadcast on Al-Nahar TV.
The official added that even parents expected such practice to go unnoticed because of the current circumstances.
“If the students told their parents that they did not cheat at the exams, they would come and destroy the institute and everything in it.”
Mohamed Ibrahim is a freelance writer based in the UK