Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Egyptian School's Hierarchy

Asalamu Alaykom,

I love the look of learning on this young leader in hot pink.  Mashahallah.  May Allah guide her and her classmates in Beni Suef.

Egypt is a country of Muslims and not a Muslim country.  This is apparent in the vast differences between schools.  If it were actually a country which believed that "we want for our brother what we want for ourselves", then the school system would be separate but equal---if there is such a thing.

Instead, what exists is an extreme difference in education.  I'm going to try to quickly sum it up for you.  I might get some things wrong (as I'm still trying to figure it out myself).

Nursery or Hadanya

My little niece, formerly known as "Rent-a-Baby", goes here (since her baby brother has now replaced her).

This is a private pre-school for very young children ages two and three.

This is not mandatory.  Many parents do not send their children to this kind of pre-school.  

They have formal instruction in alphabet---often in both Arabic and English.  The best schools apply the best methods of hands-on and learning through fun.  They have gardens and playground equipment.

This is considered one of the best:  https://www.facebook.com/funyard

Here's one I don't know but its site is kind of cool:  http://www.bumblebeenursery.com/

However, many schools are run without real thought the best way to educate.  "Teachers" are often well-meaning but under-educated ladies who don't understand exactly how to teach.  They have rooms full of little ones sitting down, writing too early (before chubby fingers have muscle strength to hold a pencil) and shouting out robotic answers from rote memorization.

Government Schools

The poorest children in our extended family go here.

These start at KG1, which is a kind of pre-kindergarten for age 3 and a half.  Full-day for very young children five days a week (which is almost inhumane).

There is a low payment for each child--around 70 LE.  Some parents (especially those with a large number of kids) can't even afford that and the government subsidizes it.

Uniforms---though the school can't be too strict about them since some families can't afford the clothes.  Some children arrive in the cold mornings with no sweater or jacket.  Some children suffer through the winter in ship-ships; flip-flops when it's cold because there's no money for trainers; tennis shoes.

The size of the classes is around 40.  Lots of behavior problems and yelling.

Rote memorization.  Lack of creativity and individual thought.

If there is English, then there is poor accent, misspelling and poor grammar.

Teachers are respected by parents but low-paid.  They make extra money by tutoring at night the same students they were unable to teach during the day.

There might be white boards but often have black boards; old and worn from years of use.  The seats are like something out of "Little House on the Prairie".  There are broken shutters and peeling paint.  Remember:  whatever you see in the media of Egyptian schools is the BEST they can show you (just like in the U.S.) and the worst is hidden.

National Schools

The well-to-do in our extended family go here.

These are a step-up from the government schools.

They are thousands of pounds a year.

Uniforms ---and the policy is enforced.

The size of the classes is around 30.

There is more effort towards teaching the actual child.  Some creativity and individual thought.

The English might be quite good---often with a more British pronunciation.

There are white boards.  There will be a computer lab but with older computers.

Teachers are paid a living wage.  They might not be allowed to tutor.

There is also a sub-category of Islamic schools.

Language Schools

These are another step-up.

They are around 6-10,000 a year.


The size of the classes is around 25-30.

Classes make use of some quality materials.

The children speak in English, French or German throughout their day.  The majority of Egyptian children now study either English or French with German falling out of favor.  German doesn't actually make as much sense as the other two languages since they are both considered "official languages" in Egypt.

There are white boards and some Interactive Boards.  There will be a computer lab with newer computers.

Teachers are Egyptians who spent time abroad and are fluent.  They are usually quite well respected and well paid.

Here are two examples:  http://www.alwahaschools.edu.eg/ and http://www.alhodaschools.com

International Schools

This is where Mr. Boo and I have been spending our school days.

The cost is 12,000-25,000 a year.

Uniforms.  Polo shirts starting at 90 LE from the clothier Mobaco.  The company also makes jackets.  It is not unusual to see piles upon piles of forgotten jackets (each one around 200 LE) which stay untouched for months.  Parents buy new ones rather than be seen picking through the worn clothing.

The size of the classes is around 20-25.

Classes have quality materials often purchased from overseas.

Textbooks, workbooks and curriculum are from overseas.  The American International Schools strive for hands-on, learning through fun, creativity, and individual progress

There is a well-stocked computer room, a teacher's computer in every room and usually Smartboards as well.  The facilities really shine---or should.

Teachers are Egyptian with a few teachers from overseas.  Fluency is essential.  They are well respected and very well paid.  The average Egyptian assistant teacher at an international school makes the same as a teacher at a national school.  Think about that.  The average teacher at an international school makes 10 times or more money than a teacher at the government school (for teaching half as many children).

These schools are accredited by a visiting team of teachers who check whether or not the curriculum, materials, methods and administration are all working.

Here is an example of one of the best:  http://www.hayahacademy.com/welcome.aspx and another I haven't heard of http://www.els-egypt.com/index.pl/british_primary_and_elementary

There is also a sub-category of International-Islamic schools.  The female teachers wear uniforms like abayas and niqabi teachers are allowed (whereas neither are allowed at a regular international school).

Here is are two examples:  http://www.janadan.net/ and http://www.darluqman.net/English/ENHome.aspx

Embassy Schools

This is where I could not work (because I'm not qualified enough) and where Mr. Boo couldn't attend (because even at a tution discount it would be too much money).

The cost is over 25,000 year

The school is filled with teachers from that particular country.  They must hold current certification in their home country.  Their pay is the highest in Egypt.

The classrooms numbers are ridiculously low.  The teacher to student ratio is very high.  This is something parents want and, in over-crowded Egypt, the only way to get this is by paying tens of thousands of pounds every year.

Though they are much like an international school, embassy schools are the crème de la crème.   Any parent who wants to have a trophy child sends them to one of these schools.  Egypt is a lot about what you show to others and this shows that your family is top-knotch.

The experience is as close to being educated overseas as you can get without leaving Egypt.  The land the school sits on is believed to be an actual piece of land from that country.  Once you set foot within the school grounds you must adhere to the laws of that country.

For instance, in France, no one is allowed in the schools wearing religious headgear (i.e., hijab).  Therefore, teachers in Egypt must not wear it if they want to be classroom teachers in a French school.  I know of one teacher at a French school who chose to wear hijab during the summer, came back to school and had to resign (she found work at an international school alhumdulillah).  I'm not partial to the French schools.

If there is a disruption to learning in the country due to...oh...Revolution...the home country of that school arranges for those teachers to leave.  This is not true with an international school (as well I know).  The embassy security of that country (such as the Marines) has the authorization to storm the school and protect those teachers.

Here's an example of an embassy school:  http://sf-mls-egypte.net/spip.php?article25 and another http://www.aisegypt.com/page.cfm?p=281

If you want to read more, there are sites with school databases:






And this last picture, by John Frederick Lewis, is how schools used to look in Cairo back in 1890.  I love the colors and the feel of sunlight and knowledge.  What has changed since then?  What needs to remain?  Where will the next 100 years bring?

I find this intersection of cultural beliefs and education fascinating.

It's economic too!

And it also becomes religious---not just between the Muslims and the Copt Christians but within the Muslims themselves.

The question of how to educate the next generation of Egyptians tells us how their country will move forward---or not.  It's a way of understanding modern Egypt and the people who still adhere to a hierarchy as much as any Pharaoh.  It is less about Mohamed Morsi, trying to rule Egypt now, than about the British who also left a indelible mark on the educational system.

I didn't know any of this when I agreed to come to Egypt.  I just blindly blithered in and set up a classroom. Alhumdulillah, somehow I made it work.  Now, so much has changed---for the country and for me as well.

I realize that I'm not just an observer of this system.  I've been a cog in the machine.  I've helped perpetuate ingrained beliefs.  It's time for me to stop watching it all just wash over me and realize how I want to move forward with it.

My old job is done.  D-O-N-E.  I signed the paperwork today.  Alhumdulillah.  I am moving on under good terms with those I'm leaving behind.  Alhumdulillah.  This is STRANGELY the second school job and set of people I have left in about three months.

I have my third interview at a school tomorrow.  I'll let you know how that pans out.  Inshahallah I'll start developing a better idea of who I want to be within the Egyptian educational system.


egyptchick7 said...

Please whatever you do- phase out the cheating if you can...it is RAMPANT in Egyptian schools..and not just between students but between students AND teachers...

I think what's missing is basic educational principles---These kids grow up thinking reading sucks and cheating is the way to live- well cheating is why corruption in Egypt is present..

Anyways inshallah your interview tomm is fruitful....

Gori and Khan said...

As a public school teacher in America, I found this post to be so interesting! So many choices for families! I hear Egyptian culture in your words...so many political, economic, and religious undertones. I am praying you will find the right school fit for you and your family. And that peace will follow your decisions. Good luck!

Marie Vie said...

Very Interesting Yosra.....I think it gives me another good reason to say to my husband that if we move to Egypt we need to have a comfortable life so we can give our children the best.
I know my husband did not get the chance to attend school for a long time and it seems to be the same for the next generation. It saddens me, because there is so much we can teach children, so many ways we can help them to be free.

Take care dear. Sending much love.

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom EgyptChick,

I hear ya! I just heard today how one international school was giving out certificates of learning as if the children were----but they weren't! The parents were shocked when a new principal came and said that their children had to actually EARN their cerificates by studying and passing. It was allll new to them. Subhanallah people live like this.

I am also feeling WHY reading sucks. The high schools are reading old dead white guys while a whole VAST ARRAY of literature awaits them. Who said they had to read a tome of Dickens and all of Shakespeare to understand Western thought? My goodness! How far those two men are from our modern literature. Let's get with the times and enjoy some books! But...of course...first I'd have to actually stock the library with books the children could check out. DETAILS!

My interview went well. Short but sweet. She wanted my bottom line. Sadly, she wished I was able to take HALF of what I used to make and I'm not open to that. Nope. I do have some pride. I made my demands known. Let's see their counter offer. I might not be working there...

Allahu alim and it's all in God's Plan so I'll chill.

Asalamu Alaykom G&K,

I didn't realize you were a teacher. Welcome to the club! I'm glad you found this interesting. I'm never sure who exactly will want to read what I've written. I just felt the need to pass on the info I'm learning.

Thank you for your well wishes. Yes, peace within would be a good one. I'm a little nervous these days (just ask my hub about my half hour rant about how I can't believe I was late for the meeting).

Asalamu Alaykom Marie,

YES! That is a good reason to read this post. People considering a move to Egypt need to be informed. I was one of those people who thought that public schools here were same as in the States. I wanted to support them and be oh-so egalitarian about my son being like a true Egyptian. LAUGH! Even the Egyptians don't want to use those schools. Sometimes I imagine I go in and single-handly change a whole strange culture of (not) learning in Egypt. But the people with money will always be fine. They seem not to care about the others. It would be hard to have an educational revolution without some money to back up the ideas.

Our hubs are in the same "didn't go to school long enough" boat. I joke that my hub prayed for more and God gave him a full-time (annoying) teacher: ME.

I better stop my rant.

Thanks for your love.

Love and light to you and yours!

Candice said...

Very interesting. I only have a small experience with a nursery there that was like you described. I was hired so easily and had no qualifications whatsoever except speaking French, the language they were teaching the kids and had about an hour of "training" where the person just told me to sing and make the kids repeat the letters and words that started with the letter. Other than that... I had no clue.

It was a nice place but I really had never been around children before and didn't speak a word of Arabic so I couldn't understand their most basic needs. A group of children of 2 years old, forced to sit there learning letters and made to be watched by 18 year old me! Poor them. I had to quit after a couple days, there was no way I was the right person for the job. One funny thing was that they were treating them like 6 year olds as far as attention span, but the sitters were spoon-feeding them like babies.

I also lived with a view on a government school and it just looked horrible in there... Huge classes, so dirty and underequipped... Really not high quality :(

Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Candice,

Thank you for giving another voice to the discussion. You really were "thrown in the deep end" experience of teaching! As a mom now, I'm sure you shake your head even more at the responsibility you were given at 18 years old.

That "spoon feeding" continues until adulthood by the way. LOL! I'm only half joking. Egyptian moms, aunties and grandmas force feed huge amounts into stuffed cheeks out of love. The result is obesity, diabetes, hypertension, an inability to self-care and be independent. It also results in these hugely long meal times.

At my previous job, I can't even begin to recount the number of times moms' biggest concerns were the lunches they were sending. Usually, the first conference of the year had less to do with how they were learning than how they were eating. LOL! SIX SANDWICHES for a three-year-old. Why weren't they eating them all?

Yes, the government schools do look horrible. I've not yet seen one I would send my son---and I'm a pretty groovy liberal.

Not sure if I'm supposed to champion the cause of the government/poor schools or continue on getting money to live. Umm... probably money to live.

Again, thanks for stopping by. Glad we can agree on something ;)

Light and Love!

Umm Imaan said...

Assalaamu alaikum Yosra, another interesting post masha Allah, it has pretty much summed up what I have been researching with regards to schooling in Egypt.

Insha Allah I plan to move to Cairo with my family which includes three young daughters. I have currently been homeschooling them but had fleeting thoughts of placing them in school but the more I research the more convinced I become that continuing our homeschooling journey would be best for us insha Allah. Although the shipping cost of the resource material will probably be the same cost of sending them to school!!

Fee Amaanillah
Umm Imaan