It is the "Back to School" season again for 22 million students in Egypt. Egypt launched education sector reforms in September 2018 to revamp the learning experience, improve readiness for school, and redirect the secondary graduation system that drives the whole education path. At year two of the reform program 2019/2020, grade two students are coming back to continue the new learning experience they started in 2018/2019, which includes a new curriculum, teachers trained on this new curriculum, and a new assessment system. For older grades, students are stepping into a new secondary education system with alternative digital learning resources to prepare them for new tests that address thinking and analytical skills.
As promising and beneficial as those reforms are to the students, the shift to learning as opposed to "schooling" comes with growing pains and much-needed adjustments for the students, teachers, parents and the whole community.
Each new school year also comes with a reminder of Egypt’s score on the Human Capital Index which is currently at 0.49, meaning that a child born in Egypt today will be 49% as productive when she grows up as she could be if she enjoyed complete education and full health. A child in Egypt who starts school at age 4 would complete 11.1 years of school by her 18th birthday. However, when the quality of education is taken into account, i.e. how much the average Egyptian student learns per year compared to a student in a country with a more advanced education system, the Egyptian student only learns the equivalent of 6.3 school years. This demonstrates the low quality of education. Building a country’s’ human capital requires a focus on foundational skills for life and work. The ability to read with comprehension is a fundamental skill that every education system around the world strives to achieve by age 10. Per recent statistics, about 50% of all children in low- and middle-income countries (including Egypt) cannot read age-appropriate material by age 10 and thus suffer from learning poverty.
Students’ poor learning education outcomes have haunted the country for many years, even before the human capital index came into action. Egypt’s results on the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) show that only 47% of grade 8 students reached the "low" international benchmark of performance in mathematics, compared to the international average of 84%. Egypt’s results on the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) show an average reading score of 330 for grade 4 students, below the "low" international benchmark.
With the serious commitment to reforming Egypt’s Education system, there are also enormous challenges. It is only through collaboration among all stakeholders that Egypt’s education reform can flourish. It is through those collective efforts and hard work that Egyptians can break free of the learning poverty trap and fulfill their potential in leading decent lives and contributing to the development of their country.