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Primary School Students in Alexandria-Photo by Thom Harwell

Primary School Students in Alexandria-Photo by Thom Harwell

The entry below is hypothetical; it is something I have been mulling over in my mind for quite some time. Being an educator I have found that one of the many joys of teaching is being able to pass on knowledge to the future generations. I have dreams and hopes that one day the Egyptian people will climb back up to the top and impress us with their capabilities once again and achieve great things.
For decades we have been experiencing a brain drain. Families who have had the means have immigrated to foreign countries to seek a better life and education for the children. The education system I regret to say, presently is not nurturing our nation’s future. With classrooms that hold between 30-70 students in a single class, how on earth can the system expect teachers to be able to reach or teach students? It isn’t a wonder that there is an abundance of private tuition that goes on!
If Egypt is to change, the education system and its curriculum has to be one of its focal points.
If I was given the opportunity to be Minister of Education, I would make a lot of changes, which  would also probably put a price tag on my head and move me to the top of many people’s HIT LISTS, but somebody has to step up to the plate and take charge.
Egyptians at one point in history were the leaders in Science and Mathematics, the Pharaohs were living proof of that. Over decades our position among the leading educated nations has slipped to the lower end of the spectrum which is very upsetting.

 
The public school system, (by public I mean government run schools) is lacking in so many areas that it is very difficult to find a starting point. Below are a few areas that I have been thinking about, but before I do that, let me paint a visual picture of what a ‘Government School’ is like; the following paragraph you are about to read is an excerpt from my Masters Comprehensive Exam Essay;

 
“For me to describe the ‘high quality education’ that I envision for schools in Egypt In the 21st century I need to give a brief description of what public/government run schools are like presently.”

 
“The land and building on which the schools are built on are not only structurally depressing to look at but to be in. The exterior walls of the school are colorless and lifeless. They look more like prison blocks than they do institutions for learning. The classrooms are small, poorly lit, desks are crammed in tightly next to one another to form as many rows as possible. There is a huge worn out chalkboard at the front of the room where the teacher stands and regurgitates and spoon feeds lessons. Students from as low as 30-70 in a classroom is best described as a can of sardines. The play area is a small patch of land with sand. I won’t even go in to describing the washroom facilities because I will only make you queasy. The sounds that ring out and across the school are mainly the voices of teachers shouting their lessons, banging their desk, children reciting and repeating phrases and scolding. “
This is not learning… this is programming. If the founding Theorists of Education could see the state of these schools, they would probably be turning in their graves. I don’t know how we as a nation have allowed or permitted education to be put on a back burner and for our countries future to be taught under these conditions.
For the school system to improve we need to improve not only the conditions of the learning institutions but we need to rectify teaching methods, because they are stuck in a time warp. Teachers need to teach not only for the present time but for the future.  Educators need to be re-educated themselves, sending them all back to school probably isn’t going to be feasible and will be very expensive, so an alternate way to go about doing this would be by asking teachers who have gained their Teaching Certificates or Masters in Education to volunteer their time to show teachers different methods and techniques for teaching phonemic awareness, reading, math fundamentals, writing, free thinking as well as how to plan a lesson. These courses would cost the teachers nothing and it would be in the form of ongoing professional development that in addition to asking teaching professionals, we would also extend the invitation to professors to lecture them in theory and practices as well as child psychology.
While the teachers are being re-educated I would have the employees of the Ministry of Education evaluate the current curriculum and together decide what areas need to be amended, changed or dropped all together. Part of the revamping of the curriculum will include hands on learning. Let’s face it, there is so much you can learn from a text-book and not everyone can absorb what the teacher is lecturing about.  According to Howard Gardener there multiple Intelligences, (http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm ), in summary means there are several ways people learn and we as a nation need to understand and accept that. Knowledge of the world and its people is something students need to be exposed to. We fear what we do not understand, the more we understand, the less fear we have of the outside world. I would also insist that trades men from the rural areas demonstrate and show students their trade and teach them some of the skills. This would be a stepping stone to start building pride in professions as well as a sense of community.

I don’t expect that with the wave of my pointer all shall be fixed and there won’t be any problems. A lot of damage has been done and a lot of rectifying will be met with resistance. I don’t expect everything to be fully implemented for at least 5-10 years, but changes would be underway before the start of the academic year of 2012, if I had my way, that is.
How to put money back in to the schools and the school system?
I have no idea what the government’s budget is for education or if there are any funds for that matter, so I am going to presume that we have NONE.  To find funding for this enormous project is far from being easy. One idea that does come to mind would be to re-invest a percentage of the sales of the needed textbooks and uniforms back in to the schools as well as having a percentage of our salaries taxed to be reinvested in to the education system. By this we would be making sure the classrooms would be in a condition that is safe and a comfortable learning environment.  We would also be able to reduce the number of students in classrooms and increase teachers’ salaries. Each classroom would have the proper lighting, ventilation and furniture and eventually resources. The bathroom facilities would be sanitary and the playground a place where students can enjoy running around and playing at recess.

 
I would also look for private and public donations by setting up an account for people to donate money to help improve the education system. I’m sure along the road my team and I would find other ways and means of finding funds.
I know that I am probably going to be shot for having suggested that we pay a tax where the money goes towards the education system, but if we profess to love this country as much as we do, shouldn’t we reinvest in it and by doing so through the education so that the future generations of Egypt, lead this country out of the third world country bracket but towards the 21st century and a better nation?
Education is the weapon to fighting ignorance and I hate to be the one to admit it or to point it out, but there is a lot of it here. For Egypt to make a 180 degree turn in the right direction, we need to educate the people of this nation, re instill the self-worth and pride in who they are. If we accomplish that, trust me their voices will grow strong along with their spirits. We need to start from ground zero, from those who are less fortunate than most and work our way up. Think of it as rebuilding our heritage.

On a final note, from what I have been reading on twitter, there is a movement called #tweetback that is working towards raising money for a slum on development projects, aside from regular donor packages, they are adding a twitter campaign component. The recipients of the donations are Ezbet Kheiralla. I know that they are also working towards improving the conditions of some of the schools in that area, if you would like to contribute;
“#tweetback  donations: CIB Bank, Semiramis Branch, acct number 2240000220-SWIFT CIBEEGCX 002, under name Peace and Plenty.
As relayed to me by @TravellerW-Mohamed El Dahshan on twitter.

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World wide, people were making plans of celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends or family, either at a party or in the comfort of their homes. Everyone was grateful that they had made it through the year  that will most probably be remembered for H1N1 (swine flu), economic hardships, life’s lessons and other personal turbulent affairs was a relief to everyone. They were ready to say good-bye to 2010 and send it off with a BANG and welcome 2011. Little did the inhabitants of Alexandria know that it would literally go out with not one bang but two fatal ones!

At midnight 2 car bombs exploded outside a church, in the Sidi Bishr area of Alexandria. Worshippers inside the church were attending a New Year’s midnight mass when the explosion took place. In the blast 21 people died and there were several casualties. The Coptic Christians were enraged by the act that they went and attacked a nearby Mosque, which caused a clash between Muslim’s and Christians.

In this past week in Alexandria, there have been protests and demonstrations over the decision taken by the Minister of Education to change 3 schools in to ‘Experimental Schools’ and now, a terrorist attack! As an Alexandrian and a human being, I can’t help but ask, ‘WHY?’ What message or reason could possibly justify the act of rash decision-making, violence and the taking of human lives? Has the world gone completely mad? Have we as a species lost or forgotten the meaning or the acts of philanthropy, compassion and coexistence?  I am not a deeply religious person, but from what I have read and what I have been taught. Religions don’t promote, encourage or condone attacks on other people! Have we become so fanatic that we no longer understand the basic fundamentals of our religion(s) and can no longer comprehend the clear lessons and words of wisdom that we are meant to follow? Is it possible that lessons like ‘thou shall not kill they neighbor’ have been misinterpreted to, KILL?

If the answer is, ‘YES’. then I am not only disgusted, appalled and enraged at the level the human race is sinking to.

This act has hit home with me for many reasons; The first reason is because this was a very close call for my family. My father had been to a church in Cleopatra twice yesterday,before the bombs had gone off. He, (a Muslim man), was there attending a funeral service and paying his condolences to his friend and his family on their families loss. It could have very easily been the church the mourners were at and where people paying their condolences were. When we first heard the news, we were told it was the church my father had been at, which made us wonder, If my father hadn’t come home when he had done, he could have been among the dead or the injured.  As an Alexandrian, this is an attack not just on Christians, but on our city and its people! This doesn’t just affect us, it affects everyone in Egypt and abroad.

I come from a mixed ethnic background where both my parents come from different parts of the world and follow different religions. Throughout my childhood, teens and adulthood never once did I feel that either were different or better than the other. If my parents could coexist for over 35 years without killing one another and raised their daughters to be respectful to everyone and not be prejudice towards others, then I don’t see why it can’t be done.

I continue not to choose sides, I stand for humanity, I stand for life, I stand for people’s right to practice their religion as long as it doesn’t harm or offend anyone else. Earth is our home and if we don’t change our ways and re-educated its people to learn to coexist the way we should, then we are going to have some trigger happy S.O.B blow the whole place up! I don’t want that to happen, do you?

Links to the news

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12101748

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/update-suicide-bomber-carried-out-alex-church-attack-says-foreign-ministry

In retaliation to what happened with E.G.C, E.B.S and Lycee parents of students waisted no time in filing law suites against the Minister of Education’s decision to turn the schools in to experimental schools.

The cases went to court and the judge ruled in favor of the parents and the students. The School is back to the way it was. The Minister’s decision is now Nul and Void.

It is a victory for the moment, but they don’t think it is the end. They anticipate another act of some kind may be in the works.

Reflecting on what has happened to EGC

The news of the historic school EGC being turned in to an ‘Experimental’ school came as a shock to not only the families, students and staff working at the school but to Alexandrians. No one is clear why the Minister of Education came to make such a rash decision as such. The rumor going around the city is that the accountant(s) and the board of governors have swindled the money from the amalgamated trust fund that had been set up for three English schools of Alexandria.  The English Girls School, (E.G.C, which Queen Sophia attended) and the British Boys School, (E.B.S) and the famous institution Victoria College (where King Hussein and Egyptian actor Omar Sherif attended)
Since my last post, I have heard through the grape-vine that all the teachers who previously had worked there have been dismissed, which is just wonderful because now the rate of unemployment is going to go up. The new administration locked out the students who had been attending the school, to teach them a lesson. The lesson that they are meant to learn from being locked out in the street is not to go against the Minister’s decision and protesting will not be tolerated.
So, now you have teachers out of work and hundreds of kids out of school! If these students are not permitted to re-enter the school, a bidding war may ensue. Schools unaffected by the decree will probably enroll the exiled students to the parents who are willing to pay the highest registration fees. The families of which these students come from are not from the rich class, they are from working class/middle class families that can not afford the International School fees.

The rumor circulating at the moment is that the newly in placed ‘Experimental’ schools are charging a tuition fee as low as 1000LE (which is approx 175$ or 112 Sterling Pounds) which means any Tom, Dick or Harry can put their child in that school. If that is the correct sum of which the schools is asking for, can someone explain how the maintenance of the structure will be kept, how much are they paying the cleaning staff, newly appointed teachers and administration? The historical building will be in ruins in less than 5 years time. Let me not even think of what the quality of education will be. It was bad before the decision was made, but I don’t think there will be any words to describe the quality that is to follow.

As an educator, I can’t even begin to fathom the trauma and stress the teachers and the students are going through and just a month or two before they are to sit their mid year exams? How could anyone of them even contemplate opening a book to study or revise the subjects, when their school as been snatched right from under their feet.
Could the ‘Minister of Education’ not have waited till the end of the academic year, so that the student’s academics wouldn’t have been disrupted and it would have also given the parents and the students the opportunity to look and enroll in other schools for the following year? That is if they would have been given fair warning.

No matter what angle you look at the situation, it could definitely have been handled with more decorum and sensitivity towards the teachers and the students.
I was browsing the net, trying to find updates on the situation and I came across a blog written by an Alexandrian and former student. In her blog she mentioned that the minister had accused the students of the schools to be from ‘riche well to do’ families. I don’t know who his sources are but the students who are attending the government controlled school are middle class citizens. If they were from the crème de la crème of Egyptian Society they would probably be in private or International Schools.

http://egyptianchronicles.blogspot.com/2010/12/can-egyptian-people-be-like-egc-girls.html

Which leads me to a hovering question, could this possibly be an act towards eradicating what is left of Alexandria’s Middle working class families?

If, I was a minister of education, MY sole concern would be the welfare of the students. I can’t help but think, what will become of the students who are due to sit Aadadeya, Sanaweya Aamah (Government Exams students sit in Grades 5, 11 and 12) and IGCSEs? Will they have to lose and entire year before they can sit the exams? If that is the way it is meant to be, then it is in my humble opinion, that the actions taken are education sacrilege and irresponsible, as well as an insult to the art and institution of what education stands for, (but that is just me).

What can be done to save the school? Would declare the building a National Land mark or heritage site work (or is that only taken seriously in the western world?) Would raising funds to buy the school back from the government be another option? Have International Media Coverage to add pressure to the Ministry? Can you repeal a minister’s decision? Will there be more schools to fall victim to the same fate?

 Brief history of E.G.C

http://baheyeldin.com/places/egypt/e-g-c/e-g-c-english-girls-college-or-el-nasr-chatby-college.html

1- EGC – Yehia GABR presents the EGC, Alexandria – the finest school in the world
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4x4v9XCi2w

2- video clips about the protests
http://www.masry-now.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1115%3A-qq-q-qq&catid=51&Itemid=162

3- ‘we are not experimental’ (E.B.S – E.G.C) facebook group
 
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/pages/ahna-msh-tjrybyh-EBS-EGC/171491752889818?v=wall

The Fate of E.G.C and E.B.S. Is it of an era? (I hope not).

The eve of December 27th, my mother was aimlessly checking her facebook news feed when she noticed that many of the people on her list had statuses pertaining to the historical schools of Alexandria. She called me over to read what had been written and to our shock, the Egyptian Minister of Education had changed the schools in to ‘experimental’ schools and he had also changed both school names. Current and former students of the school were furious that such a decision had been made. To make matters even more distasteful, the governing staff of the school didn’t inform the parents ahead of time that such a change was being made. The student’s found out after they had saluted the Egyptian flag and in their morning lines were told that the school was now called ‘Madrasat El Mustakbal ElTagrubeya’, which roughly translates to ‘Future Experimental School’. To add to the students shock, they told them that they were no longer permitted to say ‘Good Morning’ in English but the equivalent greeting in Arabic.

For those of you who are not from Alexandria, you might not be able to comprehend the loss that these people are experiencing, so let me give you a little background on the schools. The English Girls College opened 76 years ago, in October 1935 by a man named Sir Henry Edward Barker. The 20 acres of land on which the school was built on was donated by the Alexandrian Governorate. The school was a girl’s school. Students from K.G to High School attended. The facilities of the school were un like any other in the region. The Headmistress had her own quarters, which was a villa attached to the school, the school also had a dorm are for borders. One of the most famous borders was the current ‘Queen Sophia of Spain.’ I have done a search on Google to find out more information about E.B.S but I wasn’t successful.

When the news of the fate of both schools spread through the city like a wild-fire, protests in front of the Alexandria Governors building and outside the school began. Students boycotted school and dressed in black refusing to go in. The Niece of Egypt’s former President, Gamal Abdel Nasser a former EGCian herself announced on her facebook status that she was going to appear on television to voice her opinion about the wrongful decision that was taken.

Others member of the alumni are trying to get in touch with former classmates and graduates to raise awareness and to raise funds, in the hopes of keeping the schools names to preserve the history and preserve what the institution stood for, as well as trying to rebuild it to the way it used to be. The question that is looming in many people’s minds at the moment is ‘WHY was such a rash decision made?” I do not know for certain, but the rumor at the moment is, is that the board of trustees or members of the board of governors we steeling funds from the school, which landed both the schools in severe debt.

“Various school Trusts were therefore set up as charities to use the income to promote and maintain the teaching of the English language and culture in the Middle East, especially in Alexandria. In 1972, the Victoria College and English Girls School Trusts amalgamated into the Alexandria Schools Trust, and were joined in 1980 by the British Boys School Trust.

http://baheyeldin.com/places/egypt/e-g-c/e-g-c-english-girls-college-or-el-nasr-chatby-college.html

As you can imagine  a combined trust fund must have held quite a substantial amount of money.

I suppose if the rumor is true, it would explain the drop in standard and maintenance of the structures, but I don’t think changing the school in to an experimental one and its name is a way to improve the situation. I would have thought changing the board of governors, getting better teachers and contacting the alumni to help raise funds would have been a more logical and acceptable solution, but that’s just my opinion.

I wasn’t an EGCian, but in the years that I have lived in Alexandria, I have met a great number of the schools former teachers and Alumni and when I hear them re tell stories of their teaching experience or youth as a student their and see what ‘ladies of society and intellect’ the school produced, as an Alexandrian I am saddened by the thought that a Minister of Education would so easily want to wash away an important piece of our cities heritage and a legacy that had been built to educate.

The final blow and update that I have read in one of the E.G.C facebook groups is that the teachers have now been replaced. The question weighing on every ones mind now is, which school will be next to receive the devastating news?

Will it be Victoria College (aka Victory College), where King Hussein of Jordan and Omar Sherif Attended or will in be St. Marc the renowned French boys school?

Links referring to EGC and the protests against the Ministers decision are below;

1- EGC – Yehia GABR presents the EGC, Alexandria – the finest school in the world

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4x4v9XCi2w

2- video clips about the protests

http://www.masry-now.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1115%3A-qq-q-qq&catid=51&Itemid=162 3- ‘we are not experimental’ (E.B.S – E.G.C) facebook group http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/pages/ahna-msh-tjrybyh-EBS-EGC/171491752889818?v=wall