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Egypt has the largest overall education system in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and it has grown rapidly since the early 1990s. In recent years the government has accorded even greater priority in improving the education system. According to the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2009, Egypt is ranked 123 in the HDI, and 7 in the lowest 10 HDI countries in the MENA. With the help of World Bank and other multilateral organisations, Egypt aims to increase access in early childhood to care and education and the inclusion of ICT at all levels of education, especially at the tertiary level. The government is responsible for offering free education at all levels. The current overall expenditure on education is about 12.6% as of 2007. Investment in education as a percentage of GDP rose to 4.8 in 2005 but then fell to 3.7 in 2007. The Ministry of Education is also tackling with a number of issues: trying to move from a highly centralised system to offering more autonomy to individual institutions, thereby increasing accountability. The personnel management in the education also needs to be overhauled and teachers should be hired on merit with salaries attached to the performance.

Education System

The public education system in Egypt consists of three levels:

• the basic education stage for 4-14 years old – kindergarten for two years followed by primary school for six years and preparatory school for three years;
• the secondary school stage is for three years, for ages 15 to 17;
• the tertiary level.

Education is made compulsory for nine academic years between the ages of 6 and 14. Moreover, all levels of education are free any government run schools. According to the World Bank, there are great differences in educational attainment of the rich and the poor, also known as the “wealth gap”. Although the median years of school completed by the rich and the poor is only one or two years but the wealth gap reaches as high as nine or ten years. In the case of Egypt, the wealth gap was a modest three years in the mid1990s. Of the 14 MENA countries analysed, Egypt achieved the universal primary education and has also reduced the gender gap at all levels of instruction, but there is still a need to improve the quality of education.

Another system that runs in parallel with the public educational system is known as the Al Azhar system. It consists of six years of primary stage, a three year preparatory stage and finally three years of secondary stage. The Ministry of Education reduced the number of secondary school years from four to three years in 1998, so as to align the Al Azhar system with the general secondary education system. Al Azhar education system is supervised by the Supreme Council of the Al Azhar Institution. The Azhar Institution itself is nominally independent from the Ministry of Education, but is ultimately under supervision by the Egyptian Prime Minister. Al Azhar schools are named "Institutes" and include primary, preparatory and secondary phases. All schools in all stages teach religious subjects and non-religious subjects, to a certain degree, although not as intensively as the state schools. The bulk of the curriculum, however, consists of religious subjects. All the students are Muslims, and males and females are separated in the prep and secondary stages. Al Azhar schools are all over the country, especially in rural areas. The graduates of Al Azhar secondary schools are eligible to continue their studies at the Al Azhar University.

Types of Schools

Government Schools

There are two types of government schools:

• Arabic Schools – provide the governmental national curriculum in the Arabic Language. A governmental English language curriculum is taught starting at first primary year and either French, German, Spanish or Italian is added as a second foreign language in secondary education;

• Experimental Language Schools – teach most of the government curriculum (Science, Mathematics and Computer) in English, and adds French or German as a second foreign language in preparatory education. An Advanced English language curriculum is provided in all educational stages, except for the last two years. Social Studies are taught in Arabic. Students are admitted into first grade at age seven; a year older than Arabic schools.

Private Schools

There are four types of private schools:

• Ordinary Schools – the curriculum is quite similar to that of the government schools, but the private schools pay more attention to the students' personal needs and to the school facilities;

• Language Schools – teach most of the government curriculum in English, and add French or German as a second foreign language. They are expected to be better than the other schools, because of the facilities available, but their fees are much higher. Some of these schools use French or German as their main language of instruction, but it may be difficult for the student to study in governmental universities in Arabic or English later on;

• Religious Schools – these are religiously oriented schools as Azhar schools or Catholic schools;

• International Schools – these are private schools that follow another country's curriculum, like a British, American, or French system, and the degrees earned from them get official certification from the Ministry of Education, to be eligible to enrol in Egyptian universities, such schools offer even better facilities & activities than regular private schools with higher fees, but are criticised to be providing a much easier education level compared to the general curriculum, and some Egyptian universities require higher grades than those of regular schools students as a minimum for enrolment, or an extra high school certificate like SAT.

Many of the private schools were built by missionaries, are currently affiliated with churches and provide quality education. Also, these private schools offer additional educational programs, along with the national curriculum, such as the American High School Diploma, the British IGCSE system, the French Baccalaureate, the German Abitur and the International Baccalaureate.





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