Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fixing Egypt's Educational System

One of the legacies of Nasser's social policies was a state-funded educational system that is free to all those who achieve qualifying scores (which makes the dreaded secondary school exams in Egypt the biggest event in many students' lives). Their scores on these exams determine which school they attend (Cairo University being generally considered the best of the public schools) and which faculties they will be placed in (Engineering, Computer Science being the most coveted, Law and Education being closer to the bottom). The upside is that education is free for all (in contrast to the US system where higher education costs are skyrocketing). The downside is that the schools are overcrowded (about a quarter of a million students in each of the major state universities); the faculty are severely underpaid (which either means they can't get good faculty or they have to moonlight with menial jobs to make ends meet). When I recently visited some of Egypt's universities during exam time even the hallways of the universities were filled with desks to accommodate students.

Another result of the overstretched state education system is that students have to supplement their public education with extra fee-based courses (like computer certification programs run by private businesses) in order to set them apart from their colleagues. There is also a recent proliferation of for-profit private universities being established by wealthy entrepreneurs to serve Egypt's upper class. I visited one of these universities recently (Future University: pictured here) and it had state-of-the-art equipment for its medical and engineering schools and very nice lecture halls with stadium seating. Of course these schools are only available for the uber-wealthy - with tuition being around $5,000/year, much more than most Egyptians take home in a year.

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