Monday, 3 October 2022

World Bank report puts focus on Egypt’s public education system

Egypt isn’t spending enough on education, leading to a shortage of teachers + classroom space, World Bank says: A “historic trend” of insufficient public spending on education has led to a shortage of teachers and classroom infrastructure, putting public education in Egypt under significant strain, according to a new report by the World Bank. Public schools have been experiencing a shortage of teachers due to a hiring freeze at a time when the number of elementary school students has been steadily rising. Similarly, classroom construction has lagged behind demand. The World Bank’s Egypt Public Expenditure Review for Human Development gives an overview of the current situation in Egypt’s pre-university education, explains how we got here and gives recommendations on how to move towards a more efficient spending and development structure.

Lay of the land: Egypt has the largest number of students in the Middle East and North Africa region, and most of them are in the primary stage, according to the report. There are currently more than 24 mn students in pre-college programs, almost 90% of whom are in public schools. Nearly half of the students in the system are in primary education. Almost 1 mn teachers work in the education field, and more than 40% of them teach at the primary level, the report says. Non-teaching staff, which includes school management, supervisors, and maintenance crews, add another 500k people to the system.

Student enrollment is highest during the primary years and decreases during the secondary years: Almost all of the children in the primary age group are enrolled, as are 91% of the children in the preparatory age group. Enrollment, on the other hand, is lowest at both ends of the system. The pre-primary net enrollment rate is currently at 21% — one of the lowest rates in the region, the report says. The enrollment rate drops again after the preparatory level to reach 60% in secondary education.

The teacher shortage and overcrowded classrooms are weighing on educational quality, according to the report, which used two metrics to assess our quality of education: The student-teacher ratio, and the student-classroom ratio. These two factors indicate teacher workload and the level of attention provided to students. The average student-teacher ratio in public primary school is currently 32, and drops to 17 in secondary school. The ideal student-teacher ratio does not have a set, universally accepted number, but some experts agree that an ideal student-teacher ratio is 18:1. This ratio enables teachers to promote a positive learning environment that offers specialized assistance and student achievement tends to improve with smaller classes and lower student-teacher ratios.

Why is there a shortage in the first place? Government schools have been facing a substantial shortage of teachers, which former education minister Tarek Shawki previously put at as many as 250k. K-12 teachers in Egypt face a variety of challenges, including low pay and a lack of necessary qualifications, according to research (pdf).

As for the student-classroom ratio, there’s an average of 56 students per classroom at primary school, which is a demanding environment for both teachers and students. The average student-classroom ratio drops to 34 at secondary schools, the report says. Students in smaller classes — especially those who start in smaller settings in the early grades — display more notable long-term gains in comparison to those in larger classes.

We need to build 117k classrooms in five years to relieve pressure on public schools and reduce class sizes to 45 students, the World Bank report says, assuming that the average annual growth in the number of students from 2017 to 2021 will hold steady until 2026. To maintain student-classroom ratios where they are, 50k classrooms must be built by 2026. If public spending falls short of the “business as usual scenario,” with only 10k classrooms built by 2026, class sizes will rise from 56 to 65.

Education accounts for 26.8% of the nearly 2.1 tn planned for spending next year, with some EGP 555.6 mn earmarked for investments and expenditure in education, higher education, and academic research — up nearly 22.8% from the current fiscal year. The government has put more focus on plugging teacher and classroom shortages and developing school infrastructure in its budget plans this year. Some EGP 4.5 bn has been earmarked for the construction of 25k classrooms, representing a 40% increase over classroom investments in the last fiscal year, while another EGP 1.8 bn will be spent to address the teacher shortage.

A revised budget process should add more public classrooms and teachers, as part of the ongoing basic education reforms being carried out by the Education Ministry, the report suggests. To manage the shortage ahead of the 2021-2022 school year, the Education Ministry resorted to hiring temporary teachers and distributing students across multiple shifts during the day, with a yet-to-be-discovered impact on education quality. The government decided to hire 30k new teachers per year starting this year, for a total of 150k new teachers over five years, with a focus on early grades.

The World Bank advises that we revise how we approach our education spending targets: The process for allocating funds in the education budget is heavily based on how much money was spent in the previous three years, the report found. This makes sector financing inefficient, because the number of students, the number of teachers required, and the progress of specific education strategies are not taken into account. A history-based approach makes it extremely difficult to match national education priorities and goals with adequate resources, the report says.

Investing more in primary education and training temporary teachers should be high up on the agenda, the report suggests. Demographic pressure will drive up student enrollment over the next five years, potentially necessitating the use of substitute teachers, the World Bank points out. Temporary teachers can be introduced gradually into the system, preserving teacher quality, and short-term contract teachers can be given specialized training before being hired on long-term contracts, the report suggests.

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