Egyptian Center for Education Rights (ECER) – EGYPT
First, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, Article 26
Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Second: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights:
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to education. They agree that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. They further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize that, with a view to achieving the full realization of this right:
Primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all;
Secondary education in its different forms, including technical and vocational secondary education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;
Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education;
Fundamental education shall be encouraged or intensified as far as possible for those persons who have not received or completed the whole period of their primary education;
The development of a system of schools at all levels shall be actively pursued, an adequate fellowship system shall be established, and the material conditions of teaching staff shall be continuously improved.
The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
No part of this article shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principles set forth in paragraph I of this article and to the requirement that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.
Each State Party to the present Covenant which, at the time of becoming a Party, has not been able to secure in its metropolitan territory or other territories under its jurisdiction compulsory primary education, free of charge, undertakes, within two years, to work out and adopt a detailed plan of action for the progressive implementation, within a reasonable number of years, to be fixed in the plan, of the principle of compulsory education free of charge for all.
General Comment No. 13
(Twenty-first session, 1999)
The right to education
(article 13 of the Covenant)
Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. Education has a vital role in empowering women, safeguarding children from exploitative and hazardous labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting the environment, and controlling population growth. Increasingly, education is recognized as one of the best financial investments States can make. But the importance of education is not just practical: a well-educated, enlightened and active mind, able to wander freely and widely, is one of the joys and rewards of human existence.
Article 13 (2):
The right to receive an education – some general remarks
While the precise and appropriate application of the terms will depend upon the conditions prevailing in a particular State party, education in all its forms and at all levels shall exhibit the following interrelated and essential features:
Availability-functioning educational institutions and programs have to be available in sufficient quantity within the jurisdiction of the State party. What they require to function depends upon numerous factors, including the developmental context within which they operate; for example, all institutions and programs are likely to require buildings or other protection from the elements, sanitation facilities for both sexes, safe drinking water, trained teachers receiving domestically competitive salaries, teaching materials, and so on; while some will also require facilities such as a library, computer facilities and information technology;
Accessibility – educational institutions and programs have to be accessible to everyone, without discrimination, within the jurisdiction of the State party. Accessibility has three overlapping dimensions:
Non-discrimination – education must be accessible to all, especially the most vulnerable groups, in law and fact, without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds (see paras. 31-37 on non-discrimination);
Physical accessibility – education has to be within safe physical reach, either by attendance at some reasonably convenient geographic location (e.g. a neighborhood school) or via modern technology (e.g. access to a “distance learning” program);
Economic accessibility – education has to be affordable to all. This dimension of accessibility is subject to the differential wording of article 13 (2) in relation to primary, secondary and higher education: whereas primary education shall be available “free to all”, States parties are required to progressively introduce free secondary and higher education;
Acceptability – the form and substance of education, including curricula and teaching methods, have to be acceptable (e.g. relevant, culturally appropriate and of good quality) to students and, in appropriate cases, parents; this is subject to the educational objectives required by article 13 (1) and such minimum educational standards as may be approved by the State (see art. 13 (3) and (4));
Adaptability – education has to be flexible so it can adapt to the needs of changing societies and communities and respond to the needs of students within their diverse social and cultural settings.
The child’s enrollment in school does not mean that he has necessarily become learned, as a significant percentage of children who go to school do not have a good command of the educational basic skills “reading – writing – calculation– using the computer.” In Egyptian schools, around the third of children do not acquire these skills as reports and studies indicate.
According to the World Bank and other international institutions concerned with education, this phenomenon represents a grave injustice to children, and massively wastes future development opportunities. Governments that fail to ensure the right of individuals to good, inclusive, fair, equitable, democratic and free education are missing the future. Countries that fail to develop successful programs to address poor education are doomed to drift into the same destiny.
Over decades, successive Egyptian governments have not paid sufficient regard to the Egyptians‘ right to education, as manifested by various indicators.
Although successive Egyptian constitutions and their amendments acknowledged the right to education, they made it contingent on other factors, indicating that education is not an intrinsic right. The constitution promulgated in 2014 allocated a portion of the GDP to education. Nevertheless, the old Education Law of 1981 and its amendments, that remained intact despite the promulgation of various constitutions afterwards, is still haunting the right to education, afflicting this right with slow death. For instance, article (6) of the said law intentionally witnessed no change in the subsequent amendments proposed on the Law.
This article states that the Subject of Religious Education is a basic subject across all educational stages. It further adds that the state is mandated to organize competitions for the memorization of Quran, and endow awards to the winners in these competitions, certified and endorsed by the Supreme Council of Pre-university Education. This article underscores a systematic discrimination against non-Muslim students and dreadfully undermines the standards of equal education.
On the other hand, everyone knows, and the government acknowledges that spending on pre-university education, which should not have been less than 4% of the GDP, hardly exceeds half of this percentage, as it ranges between 1.8% and 2.7% of GDP (see budgets for the previous years)
Another example is the Law of the Educational Professions Syndicate, issued in 1969. The law’s amendments focused on increasing the Syndicate’s revenues. Suffice it to say that this law still requires anyone who wants to run for any Syndicate position to be a working member of the Arab Socialist Union with the nationality of the United Arab Republic. Furthermore, the chapter entitled Teacher’s Rights composes of only two sections: a section on the Teacher’s duties listing 8 articles, and a section of the Disciplinary Regulation listing 16 articles. Finally, no more can be said after recognizing that the bylaws of the Syndicate are disgracefully issued by a decision of the Minister of Education.
The second indicator is related to the executive aspect of the right to education. Thousands of villages (2,367 villages) and regions are deprived of all types of schools, and are in need for 32,544 classrooms, amounting to about 2,170 schools (15 classrooms / school). The Ministry of Education claims that there are 22 classrooms in each school, but calculating the number of existing classrooms divided by the number of buildings makes the average about 15 classrooms per school) see the attached table). A significant percentage of villages lack secondary schools (about 25% of the villages), according to reports and statements of the Educational Buildings Authority officials, as published on the Educational Buildings Authority website. This is coupled with schools that need maintenance and school buildings that lack usability. It is an appalling tragedy that is setting the stage for private schools to exploit the Egyptians who seek education for their children. Exploitation is abhorrently demonstrated for example in charging parents to conduct admission tests for children at these schools.
In a report prepared by researchers of the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education on discrimination in Egyptian education, it is unquestionably apparent that education in Egypt is almost a management of discrimination between Egyptians at all levels, especially discrimination against children belonging to vulnerable groups in society such as the poor, non-Muslims, girls and refugees, as well as discrimination against workers in education compared to other professions. In a report prepared by researchers of the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education on discrimination in Egyptian education, it is unquestionably apparent that education in Egypt is almost a management of discrimination between Egyptians at all levels, especially discrimination against children belonging to vulnerable groups in society such as the poor,
The following table summarizes the outcome of policies of commodifying and privatizing the right to education and using it to differentiate between Egyptians on different grounds; one could even say: on every possible basis.
Two factors may account for this backwardness. The first is poor resources, the economic downturn, and poverty rates in Egypt. The other factor stresses that poor spending prioritization coupled with poor planning and mismanagement account for the deteriorated educational landscape. The latter is likely to be a systematic encroachment on the right to education, generating illiterates more than literates.
Some countries view education in general as a political tool in the hands of the decision-maker and subject to development standards. This last standpoint always leads to what is known as poor learning, which means that the students in schools lack basic learning skills (reading, writing, arithmetic, computer skills).
Education as an inalienable human right; but rather the primary empowering right and the fundamental gateway to all human rights; shall be sustainable to yields positive outcomes.
Apart from overthrowing the developmental opportunities, poor learning is doing injustice to learners and flagrantly infringing the taxpayers’ rights. Every child should be able to read by the age of ten, as reading is the main gate to learning. The importance of basic skills lies as well in their integration, allowing for an integrated and continuous learning and education, providing opportunities to minimize poverty and creating good work opportunities and positive impact on health public, productivity. Besides, it plays a role in reducing population density, empowering individuals to enjoy their rights and life in general, and enhancing the society’s peaceful coexistence and respecting the values of diversity and difference.
According to the World Bank report, more than half of children in developing countries suffer from poor learning.
In Egypt, more than a third of the children, on average, suffer from poor learning. Surely, we are referring to children who are actually enrolled in schools.
The percentage reaches more than half of the children in the primary stage. It goes without saying that their education cannot be completed as long as they lack basic learning skills, which is definitely unjustifiable.
Poor learning can be tackled from various dimensions:
– Firstly, the poor education outcomes: In most cases, the learning that society expects from schools does not come true regardless of the approach of education either based on the curricula independently or on the needs of the labor market or even on the basis of education and learning as a right for all without discrimination (and this is common sense) as long as education is not a political or economic priority. Overcrowded classes, poor curricula, low teachers’ wages, and the authoritarian structure of education all block the way to the desired results.
– The second dimension of poor learning is its direct causes that are manifested in multiple ways in the school, affecting the relationship between education and learning. A report on the global development tackles this point, pointing out that malnutrition, disease and low state investment in education and poverty -related culture all lead to the loss of learning opportunities in early childhood. Subsequently, children go to school unprepared for the learning process, and a disparity in the cognitive skills of children appear and the gap widens between poor children and rich children with regard to learning outcomes and the ability to obtain good job opportunities. Thus, poverty is reproduced in an loathsome cycle that must be broken.
– The situation gets worse, of course, the less government spending on education and the more space is left for various forms of education commodification, which sometimes amount to exclusion from education altogether.
– Also, the teachers receiving low wages are not able to develop their abilities and do not have the opportunity to devote themselves to the teaching process that requires innovative skills and a sustainable ability to develop. Teachers are either busy with private school groups or private lessons, or burdened with additional work to support themselves and their families. According to the World Bank, students with good teachers learn three times better than others.
Moreover, poor spending on education, which in the 2020/2021 budget amounted to 9% of government spending (while, it should not be less than 25% of government spending), render educational inputs (textbooks, materials. etc.) inaccessible to students in general, and technical education students in particular.
These inputs constitute an integral part of the indicators of access to education, which in turn constitute the first criterion for the education quality. When the government violates the right to free high-quality education by minimizing the education accessibility, it will be unable to achieve a reasonable rank in education quality. The education quality standard relies on education accessibility. It is worth noting that the Supreme Council for Pre-University Education had issued a report in 2007 – the same year the slogan of the Mubarak party was launched – in which it stressed that Egypt needs 33,000 school buildings, equivalent to 726,000 classrooms, until 2017. In fact, in 2020, according to the statements of the head of state himself, we need to build 25,000 school buildings, with approximately 550,000 classrooms, in addition to the stark shortage of teachers, low wages and inaccessibility of school textbooks. This shows that Egypt has a long way ahead until it can achieve high-quality education and address poor learning.
– The third dimension of poor learning lies in the deeper causes relative to the system itself. The legislators in Parliament and executives combine their efforts to satisfy the ruling party or the state head, leading to perceptions that has slight relation to education and learning. Additionally, teachers, for example, are duly preoccupied with their violated rights, whether in terms and conditions of work or trade union freedoms more than their preoccupation with the need to bridge the gab between education and learning.
– To deal with this crisis, measures and actions must be taken, some immediately, such as evaluating the current situation, and some may take some time, provided that it begins promptly, such as setting a specific and clear time plan for building schools within a specific and foreseeable time frame and manage resources necessary for that purpose.
The current situation assessment should cover all aspects of the problem to formulate successful solutions that enable learners to learn through the concerted efforts of all parties (teachers – students – society – government – parliament) towards creating an alignment between the views on the vision, mission, objectives, methods of achievement and achievement rates. No possible serious steps towards changing the current situation at the level of education and learning can be taken unless this alignment is in place.
However, the reality is that when the current Minister of Education decided to treat one aspect of poor learning, namely computer skills, he shrank from responsibility by leaping forward, forgetting or ignoring that the student who is incompetent to read and write or do calculations will not be able to use computer, let alone knowledge resources. At the same time, the Minister hints or declares every now and then that distance education programs can be developed as an alternative to daily continuous school education, and this may explain a previous statement to him in Al-Akhbar newspaper that he may need only 20% of teachers. Then he propagated that he is making a revolution in education. When the concerned parties and the experts demanded a clear plan that could be subject to discussion, the minister threatened them by saying that he implements the will of the political leadership and no one is allowed to object to it.
Finally, I reemphasize that a concrete plan must be developed to deal with the education accessibility file with all its indicators (surely, the accessibility profile can go hand in hand with the quality profile, but this requires huge resources and the government says that it does not have these resources and therefore it must focus its efforts on the profile of rendering education accessible to all).
There must also be a real assessment of the education and learning crisis with clear and influential community participation. The goal of sustaining education and learning must be a goal that everyone seeks, and alignment must be reached among all parties on the grounds that education is a right and not a commodity in the market.
Highlighting the right to education and learning and placing it as a first priority instead of focusing on cement and political propaganda and glossing over the disaster of poor learning skills is a lifeline for individuals, society and state institutions against underdevelopment and violence, it is the means for individuals to enjoy their rights and life itself and the means for societies to achieve comprehensive human development and the means of the state for advancement and competitiveness.