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Egyptian Vocational Education Largely Fails the Country’s Youth

Five years have passed since Mohammed el-Sayed graduated from the Industrial Secondary School’s electricity department in Assiut, 350 kilometers south of Cairo. Contrary to his expectations, he hasn’t been able to get a job in his specialty.

“I chose vocational education of my own volition, although I could have attended general secondary education,” said el-Sayed. “I thought I was taking the best path to get a job, but dozens of factories have declined to hire me after graduation due to my lack of work experience.”

More than half of Egypt’s secondary-school students are in vocational education. In the 2015-2016 school year,  1,710,586 students were studying in 1,200 vocational education schools. Of those, 50 percent are in what is known as industrial education, 35 percent are in commercial education, 10 percent are studying agriculture and 5 percent are studying hospitality. (Industrial education includes trades like mechanics, electricians, plumbers  and carpenters. Commercial education is training for jobs such as personal assistants, bank tellers, insurance agents, marketers, and sales clerks.)

El-Sayed is one of the 600,000 students who graduate from vocational schools each year to face the ghost of unemployment. More than forty percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 are regarded as “NEET”—not in education, employment or training, according to a World Bank survey published in February. A lack of the qualifications employers require is one of the main causes of unemployment, according to the report. The winner of an essay contest for young Egyptians responding to the report said that vocational education needs to predict future needs of employers, and not just train youth for the current situation.

“Vocational education is in crisis,” said Tarek Noureddine, who was an assistant to the minister of education between 2015 and 2017. “Despite huge spending on this field, the results are disappointing.”

In 2015, the Egyptian government established an independent ministry of vocational education with an estimated budget of $1.25 billion to train students of vocational schools, saying the schools had suffered from negligence for many years. This change was in part a response to a paragraph in the new constitution that obliged the state to expand this kind of education to meet the national needs for a trained workforce.

“Some specialties are not useful and not needed by the labor market, like the agricultural specialties,” said Noureddine. “On the other hand, there is a need for other disciplines like electricity, welding, cooling, air conditioning, nursing, construction and carpentry, but they are not taught at a good standard due to the lack of proper equipment and qualified teachers.”

Ahmed Hammouda, the headmaster of a mechanical secondary school in Assiut, agrees with Noureddine on the impact of the available vocational disciplines on the rates of graduates’ unemployment.

“There is no real connection between what a student is studying at school and the skills needed by the labor market, especially amid the lack of practical tutoring in the current curricula, the lack of training opportunities for teachers to develop their skills and lack of equipment in laboratories and workshops,” he said.

Abdel Nasser Bakr, head of the Assiut Labor Union, a nongovernmental organization working in support of workers, believes that vocational-education students need less time in the classroom and more time in practical training.

“We have a shortage of skilled workers. The Egyptian worker’s productivity is low compared to the productivity of workers from other countries, due to their poor skills and lack of professional education,” he said.

Recently,  Minister of Education Tarek Shawki announced the introduction of a new system to assess students’ success in the grades just before university (Thanaweya Ammah in Arabic). That new system will include vocational education students. (See the related story: “Egypt Plans Radical Change in Evaluating Students’ High-School Success“).

The new evaluation system, which is scheduled to take effect in the next academic year, will rely largely on checking the practical skills of vocational secondary-school students. Proving competency in practical skills will make up 70 percent of the total grade, with understanding of theory making up the other 30 percent. Students will be tested weekly for the skills they have acquired. They will also have to take practical exams twice each semester, and a final exam at the end of each academic year. So vocational students will take 15 exams over the three years of secondary school.

Kamal Mougheeth, an expert at the National Center for Educational Research and Development, questions the usefulness of the new evaluation method in improving the skills of vocational education students.

“Evaluation is the final outcome of an education system,” said Mougheeth. “Changing the exam’s format is not enough without changing and improving the curricula in a way that attracts students and fits the job market’s needs, not to mention the importance of training and developing teachers’ abilities,” he said. “The matter is not that simple.”

Mougheeth calls for a comprehensive review of the curricula and increasing the funds available for vocational education. “A carpentry teacher at an industrial education school has a budget of 80 Egyptian Pounds a year ($4),” he said. “This is not enough to buy a single piece of wood, so how can students be trained and their practical abilities tested thereafter?”


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