Thanaweya Amma students crying following an exam – file photo
CAIRO – 4 June 2018: Inside Egyptian houses, parents of school children would wince at the mere mention of the “Thanaweya Amma”, (Egypt’s national high school), which is the last educational stage Egyptian school students go through before going to college.
A student’s grades in about seven school subjects in the decades-old Thanaweya Amma do not likely oblige them to join a certain faculty. However, the grades would prevent many students from joining the faculties they have wished to join. Therefore, a student might be compelled, following the release of exam results, to modify their dreams or let them go.
Before joining Thanaweya Amma, secondary students are required to determine which of its three branches they would like to join: humanities, science, or science/mathematics.
Each branch encompasses a number of school subjects that are different from that of other branches, except for Arabic, and second and third languages curricula, which are common in all branches.
FILE - List of top faculties with the minimum level of grades required to join them in 2016 Moreover, each branch has its affiliated faculties. In Egypt, some faculties are deemed better than others. For example, Egyptians perceive science’s faculties of medicine, pharmacy and dentistry; mathematics’ faculty of engineering; and humanitarian faculties of political science and economics, mass communication and “alsun” (languages) as “top faculties”.
These “top faculties” only accept a certain number of students, who are required to obtain a minimum level of grades to join. It is believed that students of the Education, Arts, and Commerce faculties, for example, do not gain the same respect.
It is common for Thanaweya Amma students to stay awake for more than a complete day without any sleep, studying and answering questions of previous years' exams. One wrong answer for a Thanaweya Amma exam’s question can be really disastrous. Half a grade lower than the minimum grade required for a certain faculty could spell the end of a dream of joining a certain faculty. It is unfixable. A list of minimum grades required for each college is published by the end of each year, according to students’ grades and seats available in each college.
Subsequently, parents and children have turned to private lessons outside the school, which prepare students to the Thanaweya Amma final exams. Private lessons’ teachers are usually renowned for their experience in teaching and are believed to have accurate expectations of what the final exams will be like, due to their expertise monitoring previous exams’ questions.
A student would pay around LE 30,000 (about $1,677) over the Thanaweya Amma year, which lasts about 10 months, only for private lessons that may consume up to 33 hours a week. Though private lessons have been fought against by the government, they still persist.
“Is the current system with its exams, teachers and private lessons satisfying?” Mohamed Hani Abaza, deputy head of the Parliament’s Education Committee, said in an interview with Wael al-Ebrashi on Dream, denouncing the objection of some students’ parents to a new educational system.
A chart shows that parents spent 39 percent of their total money on their children's education in 2015 – CAPMAS
Nevertheless, many students and parents have complained that Thanaweya Amma school teachers do not carry out their duties and are unqualified to prepare students for the final exams.
A study published late April by the Egyptian Ministry of Health revealed that 29.8 percent of high school students suffer from psychological problems, including anxiety and depression; 21 percent of these students who face psychological problems have had suicidal thoughts, according to the study.
Many Thanaweya Amma students have committed suicide after a hard final exam or following the release of their relatively low exam results because of their beliefs of being inadequate or disappointing to their parents who wasted their money or because they were simply unable to bear the shock.
A Thanaweya Amma student from Kafr Al-Sheikh committed suicide on Saturday a few hours before the Arabic final exam on Sunday. Preliminary investigations revealed that he had planned to kill himself amid psychological pressure from his parents before the exam.
Earlier this year, Minister of Education Tarek Shawki announced that Thanaweya Amma students of one school will take their unified exam that is different from another school’s unified exam. Currently, Thanaweya Amma students across the country take the same unified exam in each subject.
In January 2017, the ministry introduced the new booklet system, which is set to reduce errors in the correction process and eliminate exam leaks; students are required to answer in the same test sheet and not in a separate answer sheet as the previous system did.
In August 2017, the Ministry launched a new system set to begin in September and it will be compulsory in KG1, KG2 and first grade classes in all private and public schools. The new system will cancel the Primary Education Certificate and the traditional Thanaweya Amma (high school) system and will be replaced with a new secondary education system based upon the Grade Point Average (GPA), starting from the school year 2018-2019.
In April 2018, Shawki affirmed that the new system will require students to have three years of study in this educational stage, instead of a single year in the current system. Students will have 12 exams in each school subject throughout the years of study in the new system, where marks of the highest six subjects will be calculated.
Around 646,000 students started the national high school Thanaweya Amma exams Sunday, applying for the second year of the booklet system that aims to eliminate the risk of exams leaks.