Revolution arrives but education must wait

2nd December 2011 at 00:00
Egypt's dictatorship has gone but schools stay closed as union demands change

As the revolution intensified, and ultimately levered out the ageing dictatorship in February, Egypt's children had a four-month break. When 2011 started, parents, nervous about deteriorating security, found no teachers in most of the country's 45,000-plus schools.

The Teachers' Independent Union (TIU) claims 75 per cent of schools were closed as their members demanded fundamental changes to an education system that had suffered years of demoralising corruption and arbitrary management.

Belonging to a group of independent trade unions founded in January to replace the government-controlled Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions, the TIU is part of Egypt's democratic movement, which is trying to shift the old guard from power. But the law still bans teachers from coming together outside the official unions.

In recent weeks the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most organised political force since Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party lost its grip, has taken over much of the official teachers' union. Elections for control of local committees took place for the first time in mid-September, with the Brotherhood claiming victory in most areas.

At first glance, this seems a setback for the independent teachers' union. Abdulnasser Hilani Muhammad, who heads the TIU in Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt, told TES: "We have nothing in common with the Brotherhood. We are Muslims and Christians. The committees have no relationship with the people; they will not strike or demonstrate.

"We are the independent union which fights for teachers' rights and anyone can join us if they share our aims. The Brotherhood supports the government and it let them enter the elections."

In taking over the shell of the old state-controlled committees, the Brotherhood is trying to weaken the teachers' organisation.

Non-sectarian organisation is crucial since the military is thought to be manipulating conflict between Christians and Muslims to attract popular support for its iron-fist rule through emergency laws.

"Schools are becoming almost redundant, especially at the secondary level," says Linda Herrera of Illinois University, who has researched changes in Egyptian education. "Market-driven exam preparation and private tutoring are taking over the traditional role of schools."

While the popular protest of the Arab Spring may have forced Mubarak from office, reforming schools will take significantly longer.

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