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Monday, 15 February 2021

How international and public schools will resume teaching in their second term

How Egypt’s schools will resume teaching in the second term: After being ordered to go online, public, private, and international schools and universities have been waiting for instructions on how to proceed with term two of the academic year. The Madbouly Cabinet announced over the weekend that public schools and universities are getting an extension to their mid-year break. At a press conference yesterday, Education Minister Tarek Shawki laid out the full details of what the rest of the academic year will look like for public, private, and international schools — including exam schedules and covid-19 precautions public schools will be required to follow.

International schools will be able to resume teaching on 21 February, with each school given the freedom to set its own schedule and policies, Shawki said at the presser. The ministry will follow up with more details on back-to-school procedures for these schools at the end of the month, according to the minister.

Public schools, on the other hand, will resume in-person teaching on 10 March, but parents will be given the choice of not sending their kids to class, provided they submit a formal request to the relevant education administration, the minister said. The government had temporarily allowed this option in December, and President Abdel Fattah El Sisi instructed his government yesterday to continue allowing parents to choose what they see as best for their children, according to an Ittihadiya statement.

Egyptian universities, meanwhile, are expected to resume classes next Saturday, 27 February, and colleges of theoretical specializations will hold their exams online, said Higher Education Minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar, according to the local press.

The decision to resume in-person schooling received positive responses from international school administrators: Despite good feedback from parents, students, and teachers on the blended learning model, administrators are keen to resume in-person learning, particularly for younger children. “There is an urge from parents, from kids, wanting to go back,” said El Alsson Executive Director Karim Rogers. AIS Director Kapono Ciotti told us the school’s staff were “really excited to get kids back in school. That's important for learning, specifically for our younger kids. So it's in general very good news.” This meshes with the findings of our blended learning poll last December, where only 17% of respondents said they would prefer fully online learning going forward, and 83% saying they would prefer either full time in person teaching, or a blended learning model.

International schools are opting for different models to resume teaching: El Alsson will be going back to full-time in-person classroom learning with safety measures in place, according to Rogers, with the option to close down the class or year group if covid-19 cases are detected. Malvern College will welcome students back on a 50-50 rotation schedule, with one group attending Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and another attending on Mondays and Wednesdays to minimize contact, said Malvern College CEO Azza El Sherbiny. Malvern will be following the “flipped learning system,” where students will be given material beforehand to prepare for their in person classes. AIS, on the other hand, is looking at adopting a hybrid system that involves custom in person and online learning times for younger and older students, depending on their needs, with a focus on “getting as much face to face time for all of them as we can,” AIS’ Ciotti tells us. Little will change for education provider CIRA’s 19 schools, says CEO Mohamed El Kalla, as they were already running a hybrid system in the first term, though they will “need to increase the online component a bit to cover those who decide to study fully from home.”

But the alternative teaching systems are expected to come with higher operational costs for some: Malvern College plans to have teachers assist primary school children with online learning, which will come with significant OPEX costs, El Sherbiny tells us, in addition to running buses at 50% capacity and covering the regular sanitation of facilities. “But we have to make sure the kids are able to come to school … irrespective of what we have to pay,” she tells us. Schools had been increasing spending on sanitation and maintenance over the past year of blended learning, with some witnessing an increase of as much as 30-40%.

IGCSE exams will take place in Egypt as usual, despite their cancellation in many other countries, said the minister. The decision came as a surprise to several international school administrators. Exam boards Pearson and AQA had both said they would not be holding IGCSE exams in Egypt this year, El Alsson’s Rogers told us, though the British Council and Cambridge have yet to announce whether they will do the same. The minister’s announcement leaves room for Pearson and AQA to backtrack and go on with exams as normal. Malvern College CEO Azza El Sherbiny said they would welcome the return of the IGCSEs, as it has been a burden on teachers to prepare in-house teacher assessments in lieu of exams.

What about American system + standardized exams? The Egyptian Scholastic Test (EST) will be the only recognized exam for admission into Egyptian universities, said the minister, while the SAT will only be used for admission into international universities. It is unclear how the SATs will be used for admissions in light of their cancellation till June 2021, which has driven an increasing number of students towards the alternative ACT exam in Egypt. “I know that our kids have applied for EST and ACT because these are the only two functional exams at the moment,” said El Alsson’s Karim Rogers, adding that some students who had the means had traveled abroad in order to sit the SATs. The use of the EST as the primary admissions test for Egyptian universities is seen as “a good equalizer, that allows everybody and all schools to have an equal shot at making it into university,” AIS Director Kapono Ciotti tells us.

Public school students will sit for their first term exams (which were postponed) in person between 27 February and 9 March, said the minister. Year groups that are required to take in-person exams (fourth grade and above) will only be made to come in on one day to minimize exposure. Children in fourth grade up to the second year of prep school (equivalent to eighth grade) will sit one combined and abridged exam on all essential subjects for term one, and will have their assessments for “non-essential” subjects postponed until the end of the school year. Students in the first and second years of secondary school will sit an electronic exam for term one essential subjects at their schools, and will take a monthly electronic exam for each subject from their homes during the second term.

Term 2 assessments for public school students will take place through a combination of in-person written and online exams: Children between fourth and eighth grade will sit one monthly exam for all subjects and will be awarded grades based on the average results on the three exams. Students in ninth grade, or their third and final year of preparatory school (a so-called certificate year) will take their written exams in June. Students in their 12th grade, which is the third and final year of secondary school and also a certificate year, will sit a trial electronic exam from home in April, and will sit their Thanaweyya Amma final exams electronically at school, according to the standard schedule.

For international school students, exams in so-called “identity subjects” — Arabic, religion, and social studies — will be postponed till the end of the year.

Everything could change if the covid situation gets worse: A government source told Al Shorouk that second term exams may have to be canceled if Egypt sees an upsurge in cases in April and May. The Health Ministry had floated a proposal to take term one exam results as students’ final score in the event that schools and universities need to halt in person teaching again. Parents wishing that their child repeats the school year can also submit an official request to the education administration. This comes after Health Minister Hala Zayed said over the weekend that we could be on track to see covid cases peaking again sometime in April.

What we’re still waiting to hear: The exam schedule for students abroad and those enrolled in vocational schools will be announced before the end of the week, the minister said.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • University operator Taaleem Management Services is planning to make an initial public offering of its shares on the EGX some time in 1Q2021.
  • Public schools and universities are getting an extra week tacked onto their mid-year holiday, and will begin their second term on Sunday, 28 February.
  • Teachers and university professors will likely be prioritized when distribution of the upcoming large-scale deliveries of vaccines begins rolling out.
  • Samsung will manufacture 1 mn tablets each year in Egypt under a tender led by the education, communications and military production ministries.

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