CAIRO – 3 December 2018: Egypt Today has sat with Minister of Education and Technical Education Tarek Shawky, his deputies and assistants to get a full picture of the New Education System being introduced in the current academic year, and that has been subject to debate.
How was the new education system set? And, what is its philosophy?
We are executing an extraordinary and big plan. The ministry's team is deploying huge efforts to apply it, and simplify how it works to people. The former system remained at place for 22 years under many former ministers. So the mission of eradicating and replacing it was an enormous responsibility. The Curricula Developing Center has set a general framework that would produce a very different student after 16 years of pre-university education.
Have the teachers been trained to apply the new education system?
We are trying to prepare the teachers as much as possible but it will take long time until they understand their new role, especially kindergarten ones. Parents have been raising problems like over-crowded classrooms, and lack of maintenance. But those are pertinent to limited financial resources and other issues. Those problems didn't require all those experts who were hired to develop education.
The main challenge was providing real education to students, and changing the education culture. Parents and students care the most about getting high grades as they perceive that as a sign of high academic achievement. Meanwhile, top students in international schools pass by 60 percent.
We are trying to remind people that our goal is education and not grades that push them to pay a fortune for private tutoring in all subjects. Students should enjoy the education process that we are trying to create through the new system. We changed the examination system to give value for understanding rather than memorization. Open book exams have been introduced as well.
The real problem is that students have not realized that yet. They have not realized that they do not need to memorize and achieve certain grades. We are trying to promote, among students and parents, the culture of capacity building.
What are the executive tools? Is there a timeline?
Many doubted that the new curricula would be introduced. On September 22, 2.5 million students started to study those curricula. The response of parents is positive as they saw they are different. As for the high school senior year, we changed the tests' format, and have produced the first practice module 10 days ago.
The objection against the new format was incited by teachers involved in private tutoring so they promoted among students that the tests would be difficult and they themselves have failed to answer the practice modules.
Examination and Online Grading
How would students answer the exam using the tablet?
Senior students at high schools will answer four tests throughout the academic year using the tablet. Answers will be sent to different teachers without revealing the students' identities. Grading will be done online. That is being applied this academic year for Grade 10 having 600,000 students who study 10 subjects. So we have 24 million tests that will take place online this year. And next year, the system will be introduced in other grades increasing the number to 50 or 75 million tests. The tablet is just the means and not the basis of the process for people to question occasionally where is the tablet?
The minister's consultant for examination and evaluation Dina al-Boarei said: I want to point out that online tests would indicate how long it takes students to answer. Also, results would be released immediately or shortly after they finish depending on the type of questions, whether they are MCQs or short essay.
Consultant of Education Minister for examination and evaluation Dina al-Boarei - Egypt Today
Will online testing allow offering different modules to different schools nationwide?
Boraei: there is a test bank for each subject so every school can pick a different module. All modules are equivalent in terms of levels they are designed to assess. Questions are generated by the software, and thus, they are not predictable.
Has that testing method been introduced or not yet?
It has been introduced in Grade 10. Tablets will be distributed among students in the Suez Canal governorates this week.
Has that system been applied in other countries?
That mechanism is taken from Pearson which has provided the software pertinent to test formulation, and grading in the Arabic language. The tablet idea is ours. Pearson provides tests in a print version to American and Argentinian schools. Then, it gets the exam booklets back, and grades them via a specific software after scanning. We cannot do that in Egypt because exams would be leaked, and it is hard to send exam papers from all over the country to Pearson’s lab. That’s why we are introducing the tablet. Pearson’s testing mechanism is adopted by many countries worldwide, including Oman.
Students can substitute non school books they used to study from by the Egyptian Knowledge Banks that is rich in content, and divided into sections by discipline, sub-branches, and level, such as scientific research, high education, and pre-university education. As for the curriculum of the senior year in high school, it will be available in PDF and multimedia format in addition to exercises.
Students can also search by publisher. For instance, we concluded a contract with Britannica to write 650 chapters for Grade 10 in Arabic including guidelines for teachers. It is the first time ever that Britannica writes chapters in Arabic.
We are bringing about a revolution that has started from Grade 1. There are 2.5 million students, and parents who are having a new life. We need cooperation from media by shedding light on what is being achieved.
The new education project is not tied to a specific minister and it will be completed. Every part of the project is the output of immense efforts. It’s not important when the tablet will be introduced. What matters is the content that will be on it. We have also trained 131,000 teachers nationwide.
The Introduction of the Internet in Schools
Deputy Minister for Information Technology Ahmed Daher: 2,500 schools have been linked to the Egyptian Knowledge Bank via internal servers. Hence, students are able to have access to the bank while in school for free. Outside school, the student can have access via regular Wi-Fi, or by installing an internet SIM card offered by service providers in low prices upon an agreement with the ministry. Those cards only allow access to the Knowledge Bank, and the student can choose the internet package suitable for their financial capacities.
Deputy Education Minister for Information Technology Ahmed Daher - Egypt Today
Boraei: We decided to link the tablet to the schools to encourage students to attend as some are empty.
The Minister: That has been achieved in partnership with 65 companies operating in 2,530 schools in Saloum, Shalatin, Sinai, and others. We have installed screens in 11,000 classrooms in villages. No one knows this piece of information. Screens are connected with servers. That system will be introduced in all public schools.
The telecommunication ministry introduced fiber optic internet in 2,530 schools, and internal servers in 700 others. Starting January, fiber optic internet and WI-Fi will be introduced in other schools. I propose the introduction of Knowledge Bank via internal networks in youth and cultural centers.
What is the role of World Bank in that project?
All what I have just mentioned has nothing to do with the World Bank that is just concerned with human capacity building but does not pay for walls, equipment or maintenance.
Training Teachers to Deal with the New System
Are teachers trained to deal with the tablet? And, are we ready in terms of expenditure, maintenance, and renovation?
Deputy Minister for Teachers Affairs Mohamed Omar: The schools development plan is part of the state’s plan 2018 - 2022 which is part of 2030 Vision. Those plans and visions are in part intertwined with legislative reforms as well. While setting the development program, we estimated the costs for this year, and the next ones.
Deputy Education Minister for Teachers Affairs Mohamed Omar - Egypt Today
The final exams of the high school senior year cost last year LE1.3 billion, this year LE1.7 billion, and next year will be LE2 billion. That is because of transporting exam papers by planes, and storage. After seven years, the new system would cost around LE200 million resulting mostly from servers’ operation.
Currently, papers remain stored for 15 years after exams are finished. That requires vast spaces incurring high costs. Even if the cost of the infrastructure we now build is high, the outcome is guaranteed. It should be perceived as a way to reduce the budget rather than a temporary assessment of the size of expenditure.
Will tablet use be exclusive to students?
Teachers and supervisors will be provided with tablets having different content than that of students. Also we will introduce in January networks that will enable us to survey classrooms and book warehouses, communicate with managers in different governorates, and send messages to students and teachers that will appear on their tablets. All that has been achieved in a year and half but people have not felt it yet.
Have the teachers been trained to deal with the new curricula?
We provided KG2 instructors with a teaching plan, trained them how to teach life skills, and multimedia material. The books have been prepared by experts in the United States, and the United Kingdom in collaboration with the curricula center on a very high level. This is the first time the ministry writes its own books. In the past, outsiders wrote it after winning tenders. The new curricula also include interactive material.
Omar: In the past, there was only one teaching guidebook for instructors at each school. Now, we print one for each teacher.
What is the ministry doing to stop private schools from teaching their own high-level courses?
Omar: We do not have enough human resources to assume full supervision over all schools. But, technology will enable us to reach the furthest classroom, and know what happens there.
How to protect the new system from some attempts to jeopardize it?
There are private books that copy the curricula from the ministry’s books and add more exercises. Parents don’t understand that is against the rationale behind the new curricula depending on understanding. We found many of those stored in warehouses on roads between cities. We cooperated with some private publishers so they would stop producing such books and the outcome is the current ministry’s books.
What is the development expected for technical education to meet market demands?
The minister’s consultant for technical education Habiba Ezz: We have the dual education system called “applied technology.” Ninety percent of technical education students want to pursue a bachelor in engineering. In the new system, their three years of high school would qualify them to pursue a high degree. There is another good aspect that is they would be able to work while studying and get paid whether in or outside school.
Consultant of Education Minister for technical education Habiba Ezz - Egypt Today
That has been introduced in seven schools in partnership with large firms and we still receive offers from others who want to cooperate. We signed a contract with Siemens to train the students of 16 schools and give them certificates accredited from Germany after the completion of the course.