Enhancing education cannot be measured by numbers

This post is written by Hoda El Enbaby

Nelson Mandela has once said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ The importance of education is unquestionable. Achieving universal primary education has actually been one of the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations, to be achieved by 2015. Both individuals and countries benefit substantially from increased education levels and improvements in the quality of education. Education is a necessary factor for economic development and growth. It is also the gateway of every individual to the labor market, affecting both the present and future workforce of any nation.

Given the importance of education, it has been crucial to get look at the quality of education in Egypt. This was the topic of the study conducted by Dr. Asmaa El Badawi (Research Associate ERF) using the new Egypt Labor Market Panel Survey for 2012, which she presented during ERF’s conference ‘The Egyptian Labor Market In A Revolutionary Era: Results From The 2012 Survey‘.

The numbers tell a story of improvement
The study ‘An Update on Education Trends and Issues‘ by El-Badawi shows that educational attainment has improved, as enrollment in education has increased and became almost universal. In parallel, the proportion of those who never-attended and those who drop out of school has declined. The illiteracy rate has also fallen, even though it is still relatively high at 17%. Additionally, gender gaps are narrowing, but remain a barrier in joining schools for girls. However, once girls go to school, there is less gender segregation now.

But numbers do not give the full story
Even though education attainment rates have improved, there still remain several issues in Egypt’s educational system that are worrisome. First, quality is still one of the problematic issues facing education in Egypt. Over 50% of students reported taking private tutoring in previous years, meaning that the education that students receive in classrooms is not adequate.

In addition, the improvement in education did not reach all groups alike. Even though the rate of never attendance decreased over time, reaching 2% in 2012, females in rural Upper Egypt remain to be the group most likely to never go to school, as they present half of those that never go to school. The poorest appear to be more likely not to attend school as well, in addition to those whose parents are illiterate.

What can be done?
It has been reported that the main reason for never going to school is that schooling is expensive, while the second most common is reason is that parents did not want to enroll their children. In response to this, policy makers should give incentives to parents to enroll their kids. Students should also be given incentives to attend school, and not to dropout.

The general discussion following El Badawi’s presentation brought some lights on the efforts that the government is doing in these respects. Ms. Ghada Waly, the managing director of the Social Fund for Development, has noted that the government is working on some programs to tackle these issues, such as providing hot meals for school students to encourage attendance. A conditional cash transfer program is also being designed to give the parents the incentive to enroll their kids in schooling. Other ideas were also suggested by the attendees, as well as El Badawi, providing options for successful implementation of educational reforms that can improve the situation of education in Egypt even further.

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