Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Egypt: The myth of free education

Written by on . Published in Learning our lesson on .

Egyptian boys reading Photo taken by Ben Barber on Wikimedia Commons,
Egyptian boys reading. Photo taken by Ben Barber on Wikimedia Commons,

Egyptian boys reading. Photo taken by Ben Barber on Wikimedia Commons, part of Wikimedia Public Domain

Ever since Gamal Abdul Nasser first laid the cornerstone for granting every Egyptian the right to free education, we have enjoyed the “liberty” of so-called “free” education.

Nasser had some ideals he wanted to achieve, and he did a lot for the poor and the oppressed – who have turned out to be less poor but more oppressed!

However, the main questions addressed here are “Do we really enjoy free education?” and “Is free education even beneficial when applied to Egyptian society?”

Statistically, all Egyptians enjoy free education throughout all the various stages of education until they earn their university degree. Free education ends after Egyptian students gain their university bachelor’s degree. However, are we really enjoying free education? And can what we have learnt in the 18 years of our lives be even considered as education!? The answer to these questions is “NO”.

Now, it is true that Egyptians enjoy free admission to schools and universities. However, going through the different levels of education, it’s not too difficult to see that these levels are neither “free” nor “education”.

Let’s start with kindergarten, the initial level where children are familiarized with the education mechanism. We emerge from this level as we entered it, except for memorizing the Arabic and English alphabet which we eventually forget a few years later! (It’s a fact – just ask any Egyptian!)

We then join primary education, the “free” six years where we learn how to fear our teachers if we don’t write all our everyday lesson 3-5 times. In fact, writing these lessons has no educational significance; it’s just a time-consuming task which allows low-paid teachers to get rid of the headaches caused by children as they prepare for the private lessons they give to high school students every night!

Moving to the next education level, we join preparatory education which lasts for three years. These three years act as a catalyst which transforms our free “useless” education into a “paid” education – which is equally “useless”! During these years, some students from higher-income families reach the heights of despair and have to acknowledge that the government education system is useless. They then start taking paid private lessons, where low-income teachers train them how to answer exam questions –  if, that is, they do not give them the answers directly, as they (the teachers) do the exams themselves!

Normally, we leave the preparatory level and enter high-school, having minimal education; we might have learned how to answer specific types of exam questions, but we have no understanding of the essence of education, or the rationale behind being educated in the first place! The high-school period is considered the worst three years in terms of strain on the family’s finances, as almost all Egyptian families strive to get enough money together to pay for private lessons in the “free” education systems. Private lessons are essential at this educational level, as when they have reached this level, families don’t believe that government “free” education will be of any benefit to their daughters and sons. Hence, they do their utmost for their children to join a “top faculty”, which is yet another fake slogan.

The high-school underscores that our educational system is not “free”, while the latter stage emphasizes that what we have learnt cannot be considered as education!

After high-school, we go on to university where we acknowledge that all we have learnt over the past years is literally nothing. We spend years studying courses that we don’t like, just because we hope to find a suitable job after graduation. “Paid” and “useless” education continues on this level, as we continue paying for private lessons but continue acquiring nothing related to education!

We finish our 18 years of “paid” education, and then we understand why it is literally “useless” as we try to join the work force! The myth of “top faculties” claims that graduates of top faculties, namely medicine and engineering, will have far better chances of employment after graduation. The myth divides Egyptian society into two sectors, one graduating from a “top faculty” and the other from an “everybody faculty”. Yet students of both sectors graduate to realize the shocking fact that, “they’ve spent lots of money and 18 years of their lives on a useless educational system called (the free education system)”!

The employment market doesn’t recognize these “top faculties” or the useless curricula we’ve memorized for 18 years. What it does recognize are extracurricular activities and training experience, both of which are neglected by many Egyptian families and students in their struggle to achieve a great victory in the battle of so-called “free education”!

Frankly speaking, and keeping in mind our culture and traditions, free education can never be beneficial for us, as we lack the culture of education. It is simply not rational to grant an uneducated family with 12 children free education. No, I am not against the equal rights of citizens; all I am saying is that we can never have a good education system if people are joining it only because it is free!

We will never have a good education system as long as we still believe in the myth of  “top faculties”!

We will never have a good education system as long as we don’t encourage students to join the field they WANT to learn about!

We will never have a good education system as long as we still treat graduates of technical and tourism high-schools – who will eventually become technicians and tourism workers – as 2nd class citizens.

We will never have a good education system as long as our teachers remain dependant on the money they earn from private lessons. They will never teach well where they are working until they receive fair wages!

We will never have a good education system, as long as our education system remains “free” for everyone, regardless of his/her achievements and academic merits!

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Fady Salah Twitter: Fady_Salah

“Fady Salah is an Egyptian writer, journalist, political analyst, and author. He holds a bachelor of Political Science from Cairo University and he is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Euro-Mediterranean studies and Master of Business Administration at Cairo University. Fady wrote for several Arabic and English newspapers, think tanks, websites, and magazines including The Atlantic Council, Al-Majalla, among other outlets. Fady is the author of “Al-Qahera - Madrid”, a travel literature book tackling the cultural and social differences between Egypt and Europe, taking the example of Cairo and Madrid. Fady is currently working as a Program Manager for Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung"