Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Egypt’s research woes

While the bulk of the Middle East and North Africa are realizing (albeit a little late) the importance of promoting science and research for their future, the situation in Egypt is becoming increasingly worrying.

School children are increasingly opting to study arts and literature, rather than sciences and mathematics, for their high school majors. With my utmost respect to the importance of the finer arts, I am a bit biased towards science and am worried about this trend.

I first saw this firsthand when, for a short stunt, I taught science for a semester in a private school in Egypt. All the children I taught told me they “can’t be bothered” to study sciences because they were too hard, too boring, or too unrewarding in the future. They all wanted “an easy way out” so to speak. This trend was confirmed through a study recently reported on here.

The students in the study blamed uninspiring teachers and boring curriculums on their decisions. Reviewing my own experience in an Egyptian school, I can totally agree. My true love and appreciation for science was only rekindled when I decided to study IGCSE (British high school system).

With the new-found focus on sciences in the region, especially in the Gulf States, Egypt has to get its act together if it wants to remain competitive. It will not be an easy endeavour, but a worthy one nonetheless. A clear, multistep plan needs to be put in place with accurate, measurable and timed goals and targets.

1) The education system needs a complete overhaul. To school (and university) students, the science they learn is so out of touch with their everyday lives that they find no reason to be excited about it. The decades-old curriculum currently being taught just don’t cut it any longer, not when the world has moved ahead.

Students need to be excited about science and research again. As it stands, science is very boring when taught in Egyptian schools. An older friend of mine once told me “for us, science was the closest thing to magic.” That spirit needs to be recaptured. The thrill of the discovery can be a strong driver to students to follow a research career.

2) Science teachers need to be better educated, need to be more passionate about the source material they are working with and need to spark their students’ interest. A bored teacher will never get students excited. There is a large role there that includes better conditions for teachers, better education for teachers and better classrooms to conduct their work in.

3) The science and research career needs to be energized again and made into a viable option for the smartest minds. As long as the students look at older family members who followed a science career taking up boring, bureaucratic, uninspiring jobs, they will never want to follow in their footsteps. Nobody wants to invest their time and effort only to get a minimum paying job after many years of hard work.

Research facilities are a necessary investment. If anything, research opportunities have been decreasing in Egypt over the past few years rather than increasing. The trend needs to be reversed while offering unique niche opportunities for a new generation of potential researchers.

Egypt has never been short of smart minds, but they just lack the proper investment in them to truly make them shine.

This may sound like an expensive endeavour, and it must definitely is. However, the important question now is: Can Egypt afford to continue ignoring this pressing need?

Comments

  1. Report this comment

    Eman Aly said:

    I have studied the intermediate stage in an Arab country, other than Egypt. I have started loving chemistry at that time, one of my teachers was really good and nice, I think she was one of the motivations behind my interest in chemistry.

    At high school in Egypt, I became excited by science more and more especially physics. I don’t think the school has a big role behind my interest in physics at the stage. The main reason were science books and magazines. I remmeber buying monthly Scientific American magazine in Arabic although I couldn’t understand many topics in it. I can’t of course forget a TV programme “Alelm wa Aliman” Science and faith by Dr. Mostafa Mahmoud. It has a very big role, even my professors told me, it inspired them.

    I agree with you that schools and system of education in Egypt is not in a good shape to excite students about science, but may be doing the opposite, for example physics remain the horror of third year secondary students in Egypt.

    The points you mentioned are the essential steps towards a good system for science in Egypt capable of capturing more young people

    But schools are not as I think the most leading way to science, science books, science fiction and media may have the most important role in attracting not just students but also the public.

    The link below may show that

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2010/02/17/many-roads-to-science/

    The media and the internet could be our tools now to introduce science to public, we need the public to feel and realize the importance of scientific research.

  2. Report this comment

    Yasmine said:

    This is an important article as it tackles an important issue, the crashing down scientific community in Egypt and the generations who disregard of sciences because they’ve proved to be all but useful.

    It’s education, ministry of education, teachers, parents, and life in general that just makes a community lose its way and as such keep falling down. But after falling down, the community will have to get up and change its path.

    The question is what need to be done to raise such awareness and call for a change?

  3. Report this comment

    Mohammed Yahia said:

    Thanks for the post Yasmine.

    You hit the nail on the head. The problem is multifaceted with so many guilty partners.

    And your question is the grand one-million-dollar question. How do you start the chance – especially in a completely looping circle?

  4. Report this comment

    reader said:

    The reasons for the lack of scientific culture and interest in research careers in the Arab world are much more serious than what you’re describing here. Apparently you have no idea about what you are talking about.

  5. Report this comment

    Mohammed Yahia said:

    I don’t know if you read the complete post reader, but the issue is not about the lack of a science culture in the Arab world.

    This article is focusing on a particular problem in a particular country (Egypt, which happens to be Arab).

    Like I said earlier, the problem is multifaceted and will require broad, holistic approaches to solve.