Most Arab countries use final exams at the end of high school to decide if students will go on to university and which university they will go to. But Egypt’s Ministry of Education is planning a sharp departure from this system.
Earlier this month, the 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). The new system will look at students’ performance throughout the three years of secondary school, rather than using the final results of the secondary-school exam as the sole indicator of student achievement.
“Getting a high school or vocational certificate will not depend on the high-stakes tests at the end of the last year of high school,” the minister said at a press conference. “No one teacher will control the student’s future and there will be no private tutoring.” (The last statement met with considerable skepticism given the strong influence of tutoring in Egyptian education currently.)
The new evaluation system will use a multiple-choice method for exams, which will be graded electronically. The name of the secondary-education completion diploma will be changed from the “study completion” certificate to “Egypt’s certificate,” and it will be valid to use for university admission for five years.
The new system will link the secondary-school curricula with the Egyptian Knowledge Bank, an electronic educational research encyclopedia. It also eliminates the division of high school into two major sections, science and literature, that students have had to choose from. (Science involved mostly science and math, while the literature section included subjects such as languages, philosophy, and history.) Students will be able to take a wider variety of courses, and their grades in those courses will determine which universities they can enroll in. Universities, however, will have a lot of freedom to determine their selection criteria, which could include grades, exams, or even an interview. The ministry’s hope is, however, that universities will take a broader look at students’ academic skills, rather than just their ability to memorize the material needed for one exam.
The new process is scheduled to start in September 2018. Still, many educators are concerned about whether it will work or not.
“The new system will exhaust students and their families with the costs of private tutoring for three years instead of a single year,” said Mohammed Kamal, a professor at Kafrelsheikh University, a public institution.
Kamal does not believe that the new system would eliminate the common use of private tutors. (See the related article: “Egyptian Online Platform Shakes up Private Tutoring”).
“There are half a million high school students in Egypt, many of whom do not have the ability to use the Internet and search the Knowledge Bank,” said Kamal. He said the proportion of Egyptians who own smart phones and tablets is under 25 percent, and many Egyptian homes do not even have electricity. (See the related article: Egypt Debates Introducing Electronic Textbooks).
Abdul Hafeez Tayel, the director of the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education, an Egyptian human-rights organization that works in support of equal access to education, agrees with Kamal that the new system will not work. With certificates only valid for five years, he says, students could get stuck waiting to be admitted according to the criteria set by each university department, and many students will never get in.
“The new system will reduce the high numbers of students at universities, but it may cause many low-income people to drop out, namely those who will not be able to wait for a long time and would like to have any opportunity to work and earn a living,” said Tayel. He believes Egypt needs to build new universities to accommodate the increasing number of students instead of reducing students’ chances of being admitted.
Still, others believe that the new decision represents an important shift.
“The current educational system is based on memorization, and a two-hour final exam determines the student’s academic and professional future. This has to change,” said Kamal Mougheeth, an educational expert and researcher at the National Center for Educational Research and Development, a public organization.
But Mougheeth believes that additional changes are needed to support the new decision. “The teacher plays a big role in the educational process,” he said, “and there must be guarantees for their training and development, as well as improving their living conditions and increasing their salaries, to effectively eliminate private tutoring.”
Mohammed Hussein Bakr, a third-year secondary student in Assiut Governorate, is afraid of the new system because of its heavy reliance on technology.
“We need tools to help us use the Internet and well-trained teachers to help us use technology,” he said. “I do not think it will be an easy matter.”
Officials at Egypt’s Ministry of Education say they respect the concerns and will do their best to address them.
“We are aware of all the challenges and understand the concerns about the implementation of the new system,” said Ahmed Khairy, the ministry’s spokesman. “Therefore, it will be implemented next year so it can be discussed and put in place in the best way.”