Educating Egypt’s excellent graduates

All stages of education are important. But the quality of education in Egypt has been on a downslide over the past years. The final product of our educational institutions, the graduate, is practically good for nothing, unless provided with the opportunity to further refine his/her skills.

I am working on the assumption that the main objective of education is to develop the capacity of the human brain, to enable it to understand, analyze and create.

But the whole issue of education cannot be addressed in just one, or even several, articles. Therefore, I will discuss only one aspect of higher education here–which is one aspect of a major problem.

It has been said that a strategy to develop higher education over a period of 20 years, starting in 2002 and ending in 2022, is in place. With a third of that timeframe already behind us, I don’t think any sincere person could say that higher education has advanced over the last seven years. In fact, if anything, it has regressed.

I wish to put forward a suggestion that tackles higher studies specifically. But my suggestion could be beneficial to other stages of education, and to Egypt in general.

To narrow the scope of my focus further, I will talk about legal studies, which are closely connected with other humanities subjects in terms of approach and analysis.

First, where are the students that a higher studies department would accept, to undertake and bring about much-needed reform? It’d be extremely pessimistic to say that no graduates of the faculties of law are fit to undertake higher studies, although actually the majority of graduates are not qualified, and many are good for almost nothing.

There are four law faculties in Cairo alone. Around 10,000 students graduate from these faculties every year. I believe, based on practical experience, that only five percent of those students are qualified to pursue higher studies. Accordingly, there should be 500 students, 125 from each university, undertaking higher studies in Cairo every year. Each one of those students is a "scientist-in-the-making," and this should not be underestimated.

But how can we prepare these "scientists-to-be"?

I suggest that, just like the Faculty of Arts used to do in the past, an "excellence department" should be created for those 500 outstanding students. But if the input – in the form of students – to the process is going to be of such fine quality, then the remaining elements must be of equally superior quality. 

In the field of human studies, those remaining elements are: a library, professors, specialization, time, and most importantly, money. I don’t think that financing such a small department should be difficult. A trusted friend once told me that an assistant to one of our young ministers receives a monthly income of around LE350,000 a month. If we gave the professors who lecture these select students such an amount, they would be more than satisfied.

Many overburdened professors only carry out cut-and-paste type research work, which doesn’t enrich human knowledge in any way. We do not need such professors at our department. We need to draw on the experience of professors who have at least ten years’ experience. We can ask them to dedicate their time to this "excellence department" in return for an adequate compensation of, let’s say LE20-30,000 per month.

The library must contain the most recent references in the field. All students will have access to such a library. Legal studies and approaches have advanced considerably in developed countries. Such research must be available to students and professors, because the faculty specializations must be developed in line with social and economic developments in the world.

Finally, the time factor. Students at the department must entirely devote themselves to their higher studies to achieve the required objective.

If we try this experiment, then we might have 1000 scientists within some five years. Furthermore, each one of those students may establish his own school of thought in one of the specializations.

Let’s consider this proposition. I’m not pretending that it was entirely my idea because actually the Indian experiment was my source of inspiration. Upon independence, India established what were then known as "excellence centers". Those centers multiplied in number and eventually India became a nuclear, modern, exporting, and food self-sufficient country boasting one of the most robust developing economies in the world. The India of today is the largest, and at the same time poorest, democracy in the world. 

Let’s be honest with ourselves: how do we compare with India?

Indeed, the gap is huge.

So, let’s take this suggestion seriously and get down to work.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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