Egyptian children dropping out of school because of poverty

Double jeopardy. A student walks to school in Giza in southern Cairo.(Reuters)

2017/04/16 Issue: 102 Page: 21

The Arab Weekly
Amr Emam

Cairo - The Egyptian Education Ministry’s announce­ment that as many as 55,000 children had ab­stained from going to school in the past two years, most often because of rampant poverty, should lead to changes in educa­tional policies, experts said.

“A large number of children are dropping out of schools because of poverty and this threatens the future of our country,” said Nadia Gamal Eddin, a professor of educa­tion at Cairo University. “We need to reconsider education systems to prevent the number of school dropouts from rising.”

Egypt’s poverty rate has risen as commodity prices increased, queues of the unemployed grew longer and the government ap­plied aggressive economic reform policies, including slashing of fuel, electricity and water subsidies.

In the four years that followed the 2011 uprising, an additional 2.3 million people were listed as poor, raising the country’s overall pover­ty rate to 27.8% of the population, a Central Agency for Public Mobi­lisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) survey indicated.

Basic and university education is primarily free in Egypt. Egyptians can enroll their children in the country’s 40,000 state-run schools and 25 universities for a small fee. There are close to 9,000 private schools and 20 private universities that have fees that are far higher and out of the reach of the vast ma­jority of Egyptians.

The Education Ministry said it will take more than an offer of free education to induce parents to send their children to school.

“The number of dropouts in the past two years has been unprec­edented in the history of our edu­cational system,” said Randa Hala­wa, the Education Ministry official responsible for trying to prevent dropping out. “It shows us that we need to more than just make edu­cation free.”

Halawa and her colleagues said that parents most often do not send their children to schools be­cause they cannot afford costs re­lated to education — such as trans­portation, clothes and food — or because they want them to work to earn money to help feed other family members. She said some families are simply too poor to send their children to school.

“This is why they force the chil­dren to work, either in the fields or in the quarries to earn a living and contribute to the family income,” she said.

About 1.6 million children in Egypt are involved in labour, a 2014 survey by UNICEF stated. Those children can be often seen in the fields harvesting food or cotton, in the quarries in southern Egypt breaking stones along with adult workers or in workshops in Cairo.

“A family that stops sending its children to school jeopardises its future,” Gamal Eddin said. “It is imperative to find ways to prevent more children from dropping out.”

Economics Professor Ahmed Ghoneim said that, in the short term, more Egyptians will suffer because of the deteriorating econ­omy.

“This means that more and more people will fail to fulfil their basic needs,” said Ghoneim, who teach­es at Cairo University. “Education is never separate from this as the number of people failing to send their children to school will grow even more.”

Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.

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