Education Reform - 10 Years Ago.

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Education Reform - 10 Years Ago.

Post by Hafiz »


Hard data on Egyptian Education is almost impossible but having no public data works to a blustery Junta and the nearly 2 million workers (wide definition of the word worker) in that public System. Therefore Wikileaks, even though its old data, is at least interesting. That little, possibly nothing, has changed is unsurprising. What is more surprising is that Egypt's economy is now in worse shape, unemployment with young people, particularly graduates, worse, the problems with education screamingly obvious for 30 years and recent initiatives have the waft of insanity and a big Truck of Change on the horizon just repeats the failed changes of 30 years. You would think these bad circumstances would increase the need for change - I don't think so.

Some might find reading a good US document of 10 years ago interesting. The problems identical, promises to change and Imperial Announcements made, expectations raised, billions committed. You tell me what remains that is useful from the changes this 1st Secretary put so much hope on. (His tone, if that is a reliable judge of anything makes me think he is a person who wanted the best for Egyptians something 70 years of Egyptian Government's can't be accused of)

A 2009 US Embassy Wikileaks document has teeth – small and polished ones, and makes or implies the following points.

1. The Government of Egypt and the Ministry of Education hold their hands out and for education reform money, western, but either don’t know what to do with it, show little enthusiasm for change, or concede in private that the system is incapable of change. They still take the money and concede in private that standards couldn’t be lower – but soon will.

2. Contrary to Imperial Rhetoric the Government spends less pro rate on education than most countries in its situation - all but the unflushed toilets. The government lies to its own people about its grand programs and wise investment, knows it lies and the western donors know it lies. (CAPMASS the government stats agency headed by several Major Generals lies about a lot, the ILO has published that it lies, but it lies big time in the education/literacy area).

3.At the macro level families, invariably middle class or lower, spend about 75% as much as the government from their pockets for tutorials etc. In this I think Egypt leads the world in forcing its people to fill funding gaps. Not a problem if you are rich but hard if you are poor. Lets be clear. After paying your taxes, the Upper Class evades much, which are for health and education etc the citizen puts nearly as much cash (none of it tax deductible) into the system as does the government. Its worse than it seems because the whole tax income has changed drastically with the new VAT. Therefore more than5 years ago the middle and lower classes bear a greater proportional burden of this wretched education system than previously made even worse by the cutting of the highest rate for income tax by 5-10% for the rich.

4. The Egyptian reform plans from 2005-09 which the cable holds much hope for were either not implemented or failed absolutely. Even basic changes to the text book system/rote learning, which any sane person would have done decades ago, are not just largely unchanged, they are completely unchanged as very recent press reports prove. Proposed simple decentralization never happened and it never will as long as the centralist/Stalinist Junta is in power. The complete disjunction of the skills/disciplines of university graduates and the demand in the economy is entirely, I say entirely, unchanged.

5. In 2009 there were a million teachers for 16 million students and 700,00. bureaucrats. The polite 1st Secretary of the US fails to draw the obvious conclusion. The bureaucrat numbers on a pro rata basis are the worst in the world and 400,000 could be fired to save money, adjust to international standards if you could be confident about the abilities (or even the whereabouts of) the remaining 300,000 – which you couldn’t.

The teacher numbers mean class room ratios are 1 to 16 but everyone knows that the practical and visual reality is its never less than 1:25 and often much higher. Therefore there are 200,000-400,000 that are missing in terms of actual work and someone should find them and ask them some questions.

6. Here is a paradox for those who like facts and comparisons. That gross teacher ratio could not and would occur in a western country. Some background – really quick – 2 decades of academic debate in 50 countries with Harvard and the like leading it makes 2 to 3 points. For normal and non-disabled students 1;22 is OK and 1;25/26 acceptable and this is based on millions of exam results. Ratios are largely irrelevant – it’s the curriculum and to a much greater extent the teacher skills, and more controversially, the personal and moral qualities in the teacher. (Exam results in Australia are awful probably because of teacher morality – or lack of it). These positions are now firmly established but fought like by teacher unions for usual reasons or worse.

For Egypt they already have an extravagant teacher ratio, if they can find them, and they could cut by a third if they aggressively retrained over an extended period the others. The likelihood of this actually happening has a simple answer. What is the nationality of most of the teachers in the super expensive Cairo schools. It anin’t Egyptian. So even if you quadrupled government teacher salaries in the government system you would be left with, probably, the worst teachers in the world who would now be rich.

7. Some quotes from the nice Ivy League 1st Secretary – the more ‘robust’ ones:

“By comparison, Jordan has 4 teachers for every administrator, and the OECD average is 8:1. Also Egyptian teachers are the least paid in the region (compared to GDP per capita). Under the existing pay structure, the administrator jobs were the only route to higher pay for teachers, who were earning starting salaries of LE 1,000. Finally, teacher/student ratios on average are 40:1 in 50 percent of the school, but are reported to reach 80 or 100:1 in the slum areas of Cairo.” So not only is Egypt dirrerent in bureaucrat rations – its worse than imaginable or perverse – and its system is still the worst in the world.

8. An ‘only in Egypt joke’:

‘To address these imbalances, the GOE pushed the Teacher's Cadre law through Parliament in 2007. The new law in its first phase gave teachers a fifty percent increase in their base salary, but required them to take qualifying exams. Once the law was passed, most of the nearly 500,000 administrators declared themselves teachers to benefit from the pay hike. ‘

9. Of course corruption – as in any sector with western aid.

“The World Bank's 2005 Sector Note observed that while student enrollment rose only 3% between 1999 and 2005, textbook production increased by 15 percent and the budget for textbook printing increased by 63 percent.”

10. Their technical skills are awful and here is a bit of the problem.

“Egypt has a very high proportion of secondary students in technical and vocational education, compared to some other countries in the Middle East and North Africa as well as other low middle income countries. Sixty percent of Egyptian students who complete preparatory (middle) school are tracked to technical/vocation education at the secondary level. Serving more social and political than educational or economic objectives, these schools are overcrowded, do not graduate students with basic literacy and numeracy, and are poorly connected to the need of employers. As a 2006 study noted, these schools are perceived as a last educational chance for low performing students to enable them to complete their basic education. The technical/vocational curriculum does not reflect international best practices, which espouse a core curriculum at the secondary level, combined with practical application for all secondary students.

World Bank-funded reforms to transform 205 secondary commercial schools have not been successful because of the lack of curricular and assessment reform.”

11. School construction is a major source of corruption not helped by the Ministry breaking the law by not having a competitive tender.

12. And here is the best, an arrest warrant based on a secret document that Suzanne was doing the opposite of her soft power PR.

“There is strong public consensus that Egypt's education system is broken and quality must be improved. There are, however, a number of actors in the process, limiting Minister El Gamal's effectiveness and room for maneuver. They include First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, Gamal Mubarak and NDP Policy Committee member Hossam Badrawi (subsequently PM), Moushira Khattab of the National Council of Childhood and Motherhood, NAQAA's (I have previously slagged this organization in extreme and insulting terms – I withdraw nothing but ask those who found my views excessive or who touted for this ratbag organization to think again) Magdy Kaseem, and Minister of Higher Education Hani Helal (Helal was the Stalinist that wanted top down Russian command control. That he wanted this in 2009 after Russia/Communism had collapsed seems prima facie grounds for assuming he had Schizophrenia or some disorder with delusions and no contact with reality - possible a disease of a million or two in Egypt - at the upper end only, so there could be a strong genetic component to this disorder).

Mrs. Mubarak's approach seems more patronizing and controlling than consultative and participative, and unlikely to foster needed reforms.”

It was ever thus with her.

13. There were Ministers as late as 2009 who had strong fixations on Russian socialist style programs and decision making in Egypt.

14. This is frank – most of us already thought the whole system was this.

‘A recent study also confirmed that despite several million dollars of World Bank investment in higher education technical institutes, this area remains very difficult and these institutes amount to little more than warehousing Egyptian youth to reduce unemployment and stave off political instability.’

15. This chap is what US diplomacy once was – police but frank, clear, optimistic and principled and stick your neck out if its important. The opposite of Boris.

‘COMMENT: One cannot speak of democracy or sustained economic growth in Egypt without bumping up against the constraints of the educational system. It is big, overstaffed with underqualified employees, corrupt and overly centralized. It is driving out the poor and warehousing youth. It has multiple masters with competing political agendas. But there are glimmers of hope. The GOE should be commended for taking political risk associated with implementation of the Teachers' Cadre personnel reforms. Unlike his predecessors, Minister of Education El Gamal has welcomed discreet, high quality expert technical assistance (discreet tells you that cabinet didn’t support him/it which explains there are no remnants of this). He and his circle are dedicated to decentralization and are willing to experiment. His ministry has made tough decisions regarding textbooks, school construction and the tracking of students (none apparent today so one assumes they weren’t implemented or, much more likely, they disappeared 3 years alter when the western milk dries up – it usually happens with all other aid programs). At the same time, micro reforms at the school level are taking root and spreading to other schools and districts. (this never happened because the center will never allow school based reform/independence and never has) The stakes for Egypt in addressing the shortfalls of the system in terms of economic and political development are enormous, but results will mainly be seen only in the medium- and long-term. The challenge to the reformers is to stay the course.’ (when did Egypt ever stick the long difficult course – give me a single example in 70 years – rather most decision making is, in Thatcher terms – like a gnat on Benzedrine) ... .-SBU.html

16. A slight aside. I’ve read a deal of US cables out of Cairo and leaked by Wikileaks. Some are interesting for perverse and current reasons. For example the cables from then Ambassador Ricciardone, subsequently and current President of AUC were part of a controversial career where US senators said he got too close to the locals – invariably the dirt. His cables more than confirm the view of the Senate.

Generally they are abrupt, little data, lots of private conversations, few options or analysis and worse. Invariably badly written – Ricciardone’s are incoherent and illiterate – a bit like his verbal evidence to the Senate.

17 This one above on Education has been written by a person with a brain and a nose. Good luck to him and I hope he (odd that one assumes it’s a male but my nose says it is) has done well just as I hope all the other authors from the Cairo Embassy have done worse than bad.

18. There is a $US2 billion UN project to reform Education in Egypt which is about 18 months in. I will post, not that anyone is interested, on this another time but the preliminary facts are incontrovertible. The World Bank project is incoherent with no clear outcomes. The Spanish UN leader of the project is absolutely unqualified for the job except 8 years ago he did the same UN project in Egypt which failed absolutely. This project is the 3rd in 30 years to reform Egyptian Education the only achievements of which across the 3 are billions burned and careers advanced. Relatedly after tens of billions UN aid and tens of billions of NGO, EU etc aid and $80 billion of US aid and after everyone agreeing things worse or not justifying the aid – no one has ever done a McKinsey, Boston, Bain, Booz or Big Four evaluation of what was right and what failed in any program, small of large.

19. If this was a company, or even a western government department, you can’t spend billions, fail and not know why in specific and hurtful terms.

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