Education Reform in Egypt Conference began its Sessions

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Alexandria, 9 December 2004–

Education Reform in Egypt, the most recent conference hosted and organized by the Arab Reform Forum at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA), began yesterday, Wednesday, 8 December 2004. The forum operates as a meeting point for Arab reformists and a hub for the improvement and revision of the Arab social, political and economic status quo. Therefore, it was essential to give special attention to issues of education throughout its different stages.

For three days, from 8-10 December, Egyptian ministers, intellectuals, writers, university professors and teachers will come together to discuss obstacles facing the development of education in Egypt in all its stages, from pre-school up till post graduate studies.

On the first day, Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Director of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina gave the keynote speech, in which he ascertained that education is a vital component for any kind of reform to take place in Egypt and that indeed its development is a joint civic responsibility, not just the government’s. The opening speech was followed by "A Comprehensive Vision for Education Reform in Egypt”, a presentation by Dr. Hossam Badrawy, Head of the Education Committee in the People’s Assembly and the principal co-organizer of the Education Reform Conference.

Dr. Badrawy’s presentation focused on issues of management, finance, education reform philosophy and education and development, as well as, scientific research and modern technology, and quality indicators. “It is time to put to practice what has been said in the past. The question is what do we want from the education process? We want better quality of education, the ability to compete with other systems and to augment a sense of belonging to our nation”, said Dr. Badrawy in his presentation. He spoke of a future vision for education in Egypt, saying that “in the year 2020, we want [the education system] to recognize 100% of the children between the ages 4-6, and 50% of the students between the ages 18-25, as well as, work on eliminating the gender gap between males and females within the system and contain the rate of illiteracy until its eradication within the next ten years”.

Next came the comments of Dr. Amr Salama, Egyptian Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Dr. Ahmed Gamaleldin, Minister of Education, and Dr. Mohamed Abdellah, President of the University of Alexandria, who also contributed with their comments and views on issues of developing education in Egypt. The first to speak, Dr. Salama, opinioned that “we own a powerful political will, one that gives attention to the development of education and scientific research, but we should primarily focus on the mechanics of execution”. He went on to explain the necessity of recognizing the two stages of educational reform: the current versus planning for the future.

Dr. Salama’s point of view was clearly based on the fact that for any rehabilitation and restructuring of the educational system to take place, we should primarily aim for better quality of education and work on establishing a link between our social needs and the system itself, as well as, link our systems to others around the world. His major points for the future included envisioning a valid variety of higher education systems, an increasing flexibility in benefiting from university education, higher mobility for students on both the local and international levels, as well as, the need for new structures for presenting the educational service and making available the requirements for post graduate studies.

Dr. Gamal El Din spoke next, remarking in agreement on previous speeches and stating clearly that “the Egyptian educational system needs the cooperative efforts of all those concerned with the process”. He opinioned that the problem does not concern the availability of theories, ideas or even progress reports, but rather, the execution process; putting hopeful plans into practice. According to Dr. Gamal El Din, the educational system in Egypt needs to undergo a process of administrative decentralization and wider civic participation, while giving more weight to pre-university education.

Fourth to speak was Dr. Abdellah, who said that technical education should be given more financial and social consideration, as public opinion should be redirected towards considering it as a choice beside university education. He also said that bureaucratic restrictions should be removed as they are an impediment to any educational progress or development, which leads us to the necessity of making amendments at the legislative level.

Following a brief break, and with Dr. Hossam Badrawy acting as rapporteur, Dr. Serageldin proceeded to present his views on successful international examples of education reform projects with special reference to cases and experiences from different developing and developed countries, as well as, education reform programs sponsored by international organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Bank.

Dr. Serageldin mainly drew attention to the role of scientific research in the advancement of nations. He drew upon the experiences of other developing countries in the field of education, such as the Korean, Indian, Chinese and the Cuban progress achieved in endeavors of eradicating illiteracy and establishing a wider base of educated citizens. He also spoke of the importance of vocational training and the Malaysian experiment of taking the Internet to the countryside, "Internet on Wheels". In explaining the responsibility of libraries in ‘preserving the achievements of the past and providing access to common heritage’, he drew attention to the role of digital libraries and how they can be made to revolutionize ‘global knowledge’ by making accessible digital copies of all material available in any library. The BA has already initiated digital projects in an endeavor to raise technological, as well as, scientific awareness. ‘My Book: Digital & Printed’ and the ‘Hole in the Wall’ are both digital and educational projects that aim at promoting the ‘self learning’ paradigm of education, instead of the instructive method used in almost every developing country up till now.

The first day of the Education Reform in Egypt Conference was certainly an indicator of two more days of liberated debate, free inspiration and hope for a better planned and thought out future.