Spate of suicides sparks call to ease exam pressure

15th August 2003 at 01:00
EGYPT. Poor results on the final secondary school exam have caused a spate of teen suicides in Egypt.

At least nine adolescents have killed themselves either in anticipation or in consequence of low scores on the infamous and gruelling exam that determines admission to university.

Azza Al Sherbini, director of the private Heliopolis American International School, said: "We used to have an instance or two every year, but nine is a record."

The suicides provoked renewed criticism of the exam system and the pressures it puts on the young.

Three boys hanged themselves within a week in early July in Qalubeya province before the mid- July results after reportedly being convinced they had done badly. By July 22, four girls had also killed themselves in Cairo, Giza and Sohag, and the deaths of two more boys were announced a week later.

The father of Amal Ibrahim Mohammud, 18, who took rat poison, told opposition paper Al Wafd: "When my daughter discovered she had failed the test, she locked herself in her room. When I went to bring her food, I found that she had taken her life."

But Ali Khalef, a retired director of the Giza Central Education Administration and a former headteacher, defended the exam. He said it had been operating since the 1950s, but in the mid-1990s suicides "started to happen a lot, because this new generation doesn't have the courage to face failure".

With rising population and unemployment, a degree is viewed by many young Egyptians as the only guarantee of a stable future and middle-class families spend a small fortune on tutors. A student must score 97 per cent to enter sought-after courses such as engineering, medicine, or computing.

The Ministry of Education is considering lowering the pressure with more continuous assessment and cumulative credit.

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