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?