CAIRO—The Egyptian government last week withdrew a parliamentary bill to reform the country’s secondary education system after widespread criticism, but said it would present a new draft soon.
If voted into law, the bill would have replaced the current practice of assessing students on the results of their final-year exam and instead take into account their grades at the end of each of the three secondary academic years.
It would also enable students to take secondary school exams electronically and would allow them to sit them to sit for exams more than once. The first time would be free and a fee would be charged for subsequent attempts, but the draft law did not say how much.
“We … presented the idea of multiple exam attempts despite the effort and cost it entails on the ministry, because it is in the best interest of the student,” Tarek Shawki, the minister of education, posted on his Facebook account.
He said the ministry was “studying legal alternatives” and would resubmit the bill to the Council of Ministers with amendments and then to the Senate “within weeks.”
The minister’s policies have always been the subject of criticism, from his decision to allow the use of digital instead of traditional textbooks (see a related article, “Egypt Debates Introducing Electronic Textbooks”), to the transition to online education and conducting exams electronically due to the coronavirus pandemic, and finally to the recent draft reform bill.
Proposed reforms of the secondary education system go back to when Shawki took office in 2017, but it has taken longer than expected to implement changes. The recent transformation to e-learning was made possible by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. (See a related article, “Coronavirus Outbreak Forces Arab Countries to Consider Long-Ignored Online Education.”)
Ministry’s Goals Questioned
The proposed reform has not been welcomed by many, despite persistent objections to the current system, which makes secondary education final exam grades the sole criterion for university admission. Experts in the field of education have described the bill as superficial and ineffectual.
“The development of educational systems must begin first by defining the goal of the planned change, then updating the curriculum pursuant to a scientific plan, and improving the teacher’s efficiency and developing teaching approaches.”Shebl Badran
Former dean of the Faculty of Education at Alexandria University
“The development of educational systems must begin first by defining the goal of the planned change, then updating the curriculum pursuant to a scientific plan, and improving the teacher’s efficiency and developing teaching approaches,” said Shebl Badran, former dean of the Faculty of Education at Alexandria University, in a phone interview. The question of assessment and tests should come in the last phase, not the other way around, he added.
Badran, who was a member of the Pre-University Education Advisory Committee at the National Authority for Quality Assurance and Accreditation, alleged that the main objective of the proposed reform was to reduce the number of students admitted to universities, in line with the recommendations of the World Bank.
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He also asserted that the proposal to enable students to re-sit the end-of-year exams for a defined fee violates the principle of equality in education.
Defending the draft law, a ministerial statement said that “free education has not existed for a long time.” It added that the cumulative grading system exists throughout the world and “we seek to reward students’ efforts over three years instead of one year.”
Nevertheless, many students have criticized the proposals.
Calls for a Probation Period
Hamza Mustafa Diab, a 15-year-old student in the third preparatory grade, approved of the idea of allowing students to re-sit exams to improve their grades. However, “estimating the grades of three academic years rather than one year increases the burden on our shoulders and on the shoulders of our guardians, as well as increasing private tuition significantly.”
“Estimating the grades of three academic years rather than one year increases the burden on our shoulders and on the shoulders of our guardians, as well as increasing private tuition significantly.”Hamza Mustafa Diab
A 15-year-old student in the third preparatory grade
Badran acknowledged that the cumulative grade system was “a useful educational idea in the modernization process” and that “measuring student abilities in one hour is unfair.” But, he said, “this requires developing teaching approaches and raising the efficiency of teachers.”
Ghosoun Tawfiq, a researcher formerly in charge of education affairs at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, called for a probation period and discussion panels.
“Changing assessment approaches in order to stimulate critical thinking as indicated by the new system project is a substantial and necessary issue,” she said. But she doubted that it can actually be implemented in the near term.
“During the past two years, the size of the gap between the available capabilities and the possibility of implementing any modifications became clear, especially in light of the lack of time for experimentation and evaluation,” she said. “I think the experience of online education during the past two years is a good model of that.”