Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 26 seconds

Yes, But… Addressing Complexity in Egypt’s New Educational Reforms

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 26 seconds

I’ve been asked to participate in a panel on Monday with two other educators/researchers responding to the new educational reforms proposed by the Minister of Education. A couple of items have been postponed, but the bulk of the reforms will start 2018/2019 inshallah.

My response to all of these suggested reforms is a “yes, but”. Tl;dr I feel that the Cynefin framework would help explain my critiques, as I feel the reforms assume an “ordered system” with simple or complicated problems which can be solved by analysis and engineering designs, technical solutions, whereas the execution of these good ideas is going to be highly problematic because in actuality the education system is a more complex system with non-straightforward solutions, that need more probing and multiple pathways and more digging deep into human and social and administrative and cultural concerns in order to solve them, and solutions will have to be partial and contextual and emergent over time, needing some post-structuralist analysis in order to see the multiple overlapping but also dynamic dimensions of the system. Whew. That’s the tl;dr. Now the details. Remember I’m not an expert in K-12 education neither by study nor experience – most of my experience is in higher ed, but I also do lots of educational theory and much of that applies to K-12. I am also a parent and lived through Egyptian education in middle school for 3 years back in the 1990s.

Arabic as Mother Tongue

Learning in one’s home/daily language is known to be a good/preferred thing. I know I’ve read this about k-12 and I know Paulo Freire’s Critical Pedagogy suggests this for adult literacy. What Paulo Freire talks about is using vocabulary from the oppressed working class’s life to teach literacy. So you don’t use discourses that are unfamiliar or Culturally distant from them.

In theory, I agree completely with the idea to teach everything in public schools in integrated interdisciplinary curricula to learn language in context. My own British schooling was like this. We learned a “topic” and read books on it and wrote poems on it and did artwork on it and sang songs about it… Which strengthened our vocabulary and knowledge in tandem.

However, the real problem in Egypt is diglossia. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) that we read and write across the Arab world is NOBODY’S mother tongue ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. I grew up in Kuwait, so I spoke Egyptian dialect at home and with friends, but I also understood fluently Palestinian and Kuwaiti Arabic which I was exposed to via friends and TV. Those latter two dialects are very different from Egyptian and each other, but appear to me to have more vocabulary in common with MSA. And so being exposed to all 3 made learning MSA slightly easier for me. Egyptian kids don’t have that kind of exposure.

Now you can potentially teach MSA by picking specific vocabulary from MSA that is close to Egyptian dialect and start with that. However, Egyptian Arabic language curriculum fails miserably to do so consistently. It does it sometimes (because some words are indeed identical like the Arabic word for lion and rabbit and elephant and dog, and some are similar but different pronunciation like horse and donkey and cow) but some are incredibly different and confusing. And those are taught in first 3 years of schooling KG1 to year 1.

So my main concern is with how well they’ve reformed this aspect and I passed this on to a friend who’s been working on this.

English from KG1 and in middle school

I applaud, in theory, the decision to teach English language from KG1 and bring up bilingual kids. That’s empowering. And to teach math and science in English from middle school also empowers students to learn on their own using the internet. I know Kids who went to STEM schools needed the English to be able to learn independently and that’s important.

However, I have two concerns with implementation

  1. Do we have in Egypt enough teachers qualified through primary years to teach English at a quality level? To the extent kids can learn science in English from middle school onwards? I know currently most public school teachers of English aren’t good. I’ve taught them. I know. So how do we fix this? Feels like a long-term fix
  2. Do we have enough teachers at middle school who can teach science and math in English? Same problem as above
  3. Do we recognize the cultural and social capital limitations of this experiment? That parents at home who are only semi-educated and don’t know English won’t be able to help their kids with seemingly simple questions and they may resort to private tutoring even more than they already do

Private Tutoring

I don’t even wanna get into private tutoring. It’s a “wicked” problem for sure, as Ellsworth describes. Definitely a complex one according to Cynefin. A systemic cultural issue with many stakeholders and I’m pretty sure no engineering solution will work. It needs creativity and loads of probing. I’ll stop here for this.

In fact, I have many more notes but I’ll stop here for now in general and come back again later.


نعم و لكن… نظرة في الجوانب المعقدة لنظام تطوير التعليم الجديد في مصر

تلقيت دعوة لأشارك في ندوة لمناقشة نظام التعليم الجديد المطروح من وزير التعليم. الندوة ان شاء اللخ الاثنين القادم في روابط

رحم الله امرئ عرف قدر نفسه. أنا لست خبيرة في التعليم قبل الجامعي. عملي بالجامعة الأمريكية و أبحاثي في مجال التعليم العالي و النقدي و استخدام التكنولوجيا في التعليم و اشياء كن هذا القبيل.

و لكني اهتم بالتعليم في مصر كأم ابنتها في الصف الألول الابتدائي و استاذة جامعة أدرس لطلبة مصريين و أيضاً درست جزء من عمري في مدارس مصرية في المرحلة الإعدادية…

أود أن أركز كلامي عن النظام المقترح في فكرة رئيسية و هي مبنية على نظام كنيفين الذي يقول ان المشكلات التي تواجهنا انواع… منها المشكلة البسيطة ذات الحل او الحلول الواضحة للكل…فهي لها حل أمثل… و مشكلات مركبة حلها غير واضخ و تتوجب التحليل من خبراء لايجاد حل او حلول لها فقد توجد حلول جيدة لكن ليس من اسهل التوصل لحل أمثل.. و مشكلات معقجة يصعب فهمها من عمق تعقيد مكوناتها و جوانبها و تتطلب منا التعمق و التدقيق في ايجاد الحلول و التجربة للحلول في كل سياق بعينه… لنعلم أن الحل الذي يعمل في سياق قد لا يعمل في الآخر و قد لا نعلم مسبقاً أي الحلول المطروحة سينجح في سياقنا و ظروفنا.. إذا هنا الحلول ليست كاملة او مثالية و لكنها حلول تناسب السياق نكتشفها بالتجربة و اعادة التجربة و هذا شيء مستمر و الحلول ناشئة دوماً…. و بعص المشكلات فوضوية كالكوارث يجب ان نحاول حلها سريعاً لانه لا يوجد وقت للبحث و التحليل.

في رأيي أن حلول الوزارة تعامل مشكلة التعليم كأنها مشكلة مركبة ذات حلول هندسية جيدة نطبقها فتعطينا نتيجة…. في حين أن حقيقية مشكلة اتعليم أنها مشكلة معقدة متعددة الجوانب و الأطراف و لذلك يصعب حلها بالطرق المطروحة رغم أنها أفكار جيدة… لكنها لا تأخذ في اعتبارها السياق الفريد لمصر… بداية بطبيعة المدرس و الادارة و ثقافة الشعب و صفات اللغة العربية كلغة تدريس و غير ذلك. و سأركز على بعض الأمثلة على سبيل المثال لا الحصر.

أولاً اللغة العربية الفصحى ليست اللغة الأم لأي منا. لأننا نتكلم العامية التي تختلف كثيرا عنها

Need to stop now. To be continued

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