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Cablegate: Egypt: Education Reform Law Passes, Amidst Protest

VZCZCXYZ0040
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEG #2174/01 1931444
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 121444Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 6118

UNCLAS CAIRO 002174

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/ELA
USAID FOR ANA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KMPI KISL KPAO ECON EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT: EDUCATION REFORM LAW PASSES, AMIDST PROTEST

REF: CAIRO 1986

Sensitive but unclassified, please protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary: On June 21, President Mubarak signed the
"Teacher's Cadre" education law establishing a new system for
hiring, training, and promoting teachers. The change is
aimed at reforming Egypt's broken education system, where
teachers are poorly paid and trained and not promoted
according to their skills. Protests surrounded deliberation
of the law, with some charging that the GOE is "privatizing"
education. Penalties for private lessons, a widespread
phenomenon that compensates teachers for low pay and parents
for poor quality of education, were stripped before passage,
leaving this problem to be solved later. USAID played a
major role in assisting the Ministry of Education (MOE) to
develop this law and continues to advise the MOE on education
reform. The Cadre is a first step towards much needed
education reform. End summary.

New Education Law to Build Skilled Teacher Force
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (U) On June 21, Egyptian President Mubarak signed the
"Teacher's Cadre" law, establishing new rules for hiring,
training, and promoting teachers through the secondary school
level. The Cadre links salary increases to performance and
establishes a six-tier system of teacher ranks from
probationary to senior levels. This removes teachers from
the civil service system, under which they were promoted
based on seniority and the most senior positions were in
administration, not teaching. In addition, a new Ministry of
Education (MOE) "Teacher's Academy" will be created to
provide training, licensing, and certification. The Cadre
also includes support staff at schools (on the order of
50,000 employees), such as librarians and computer support
technicians. On June 29, Mubarak agreed to include teachers
in the Al-Azhar religious school system in the Cadre.

3. (U) There is a general consensus that the current
education system is dysfunctional. Class size averages 43
students, and teachers generally focus efforts on their
private students who pay for after school tutoring. Teachers
aim to help students pass standardized exams, but do not
instill critical thinking skills. Sixty percent of secondary
students are in poor quality vocational, rather than general,
education programs. Approximately 29 percent of Egyptians
between the ages of 15 and 45 are illiterate; although this
is a significant improvement in the past thirty years, there
is a long way to go.

4. (SBU) The new law creates a system where teachers advance
to higher ranks, and get paid commensurately, based on their
teaching skills. This is an improvement over the former
system in which, to get the top salaries, teachers had to
move into adminstrative positions. The
administrator-to-teacher ratio in the Egyptian school system
is grossly out-of-whack, according to the Ministry of
Education - Egypt has 821,043 teachers and 522,515
administrators, or about two administrators for every three
teachers. Teachers who pass qualifying exams will be able to
triple their salaries. They currently earn only between LE
292 ($51) and LE 808 ($142) per month, with a LE 512 ($90)
yearly bonus; this will increase to between LE 543 ($95) and
LE 1550 ($272), though the yearly bonus will be cancelled.
(In comparison, an entry-level U.S. Embassy Cairo security
guards earns about LE 1900, or $334, monthly base pay.)
Financing for higher salaries, the new Teacher's Academy, and
administration of the new Cadre comes from LE 1 billion ($175
million) put aside by Prime Minister Nazif for this program
in August 2006.

Loud Opposition Surrounds Deliberations
---------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Protests surrounded the debate and passage of this
new law, both in the Shura Council (the lower house of
parliament) and the People's Assembly (the upper house). In
response to the protests, salary levels were raised over the
initial proposal, support staff and technicians were
included, and penalties for teachers engaged in after school
tutoring were dropped. The GOE held firm against a Teacher's
Syndicate protest, however, in which the group opposed giving
control over licensing to the Teacher's Academy (vice the
syndicate) and linking promotions to passing competency exams
(rather than simply completing training courses). Dr. Reda
Abou Serie, First Undersecretary for General Education at the
MOE, told emboff June 17 that the Teacher's Syndicate
protests were based on a desire to raise pay and benefits
without imposing any requirements for improved teacher
performance.

6. (SBU) An offshoot of the Teacher's Syndicate, the
"Teachers Without Syndicate" movement, established itself in
Alexandria in June. They oppose the reforms on the grounds
that the Cadre does not "correspond with the President's
electoral platform" nor meet teachers' "needs and ambitions."
Hesham Shawqy, education reporter for the independent
Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Yom, told emboff that this
movement, and a similar one called the "Free Teachers,"
continues to oppose the Cadre because they see it as a
privatization of the education system. He said that the
socialist opposition Taggamu party supports the movements
because it supports "anything against privatization," and
pointed particularly to the new Teacher's Academy as a focus
of the privatization accusation. (Comment: The charge of
privatization continues to be a strong rallying point for any
opposition to GOE policies, and invoking it appears to
attract some support, even if the charge is spurious. End
comment.)

Private Tutoring Still A Concern
--------------------------------

7. (U) The law as passed by the Shura Council included
penalties for teachers who provide private tutoring outside
the classroom, but the Education Committee of the People's
Assembly removed these penalties before approving the law.
Such private lessons are a fact of life in Egyptian schools,
particularly as secondary school students approach the
foreboding Thanawiyya Amma exam that determines their
university futures. They are also a means of practical
survival for teachers, providing them many times their income
made teaching in schools. Sherif Omar, head of the Education
Committee, told emboff that the penalties being discussed
were not practical or enforceable, as after-school tutoring
compensates teachers with extremely low salaries and parents
whose children do not receive adequate education in school.
Instead, he hoped that as teachers' salaries increase and the
quality of in-class instruction improves, demand for outside
lessons will subside.

8. (U) Dr. Abu Serie said that changing the university
admissions process could also help lessen the pervasive
private lesson culture. He said that the MOE is working with
the Ministry of Higher Education to increase the number of
private universities, and thus decreasing competition for
public ones, and to change the entrance process for
universities to include tests on specific subjects of study
in addition to the Thanawiyya Amma.

USAID Role
----------

9. (SBU) USAID provided extensive technical assistance to the
MOE to help them design the Teacher's Cadre and present it
for passage in Parliament. USAID has also been working with
the MOE on defining the role of the Teacher's Academy, and is
helping to prepare the final proposal for the Minister to
present for the Cabinet's approval. See reftel for more
details on USAID's assistance in reforming the Egyptian
education system.

Comment
-------

10. (SBU) The Teacher's Cadre is an initial attempt at
sweeping education reform in a system that has failed to
provide its graduates with the skills to compete in a modern
economy. One measure of success will be the extent to which
the government can eventually take on the private tutoring
issue; if teachers are paid more and the quality of
instruction goes up, then in theory the demand for such
private instruction should lessen. Additionally,
implementation of the Teacher's Academy and changes in
curriculums must emphasize critical thinking skills over rote
learning, in order to enhance graduates' skills and
potentially pave the way for a freer culture of independent
thought in Egypt.
RICCIARDONE

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