Poor school science threatens Egypt’s development

Egyptian students lack interest in science and mathematics, says a survey Copyright: Flickr/Paulo Ribeiro

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[CAIRO] Egypt’s aim of becoming a developed country by 2030 may fail because young people are being turned off science and mathematics, a study has found.

About 70 per cent of 10,000 secondary school students surveyed said uninspiring teaching meant they would not pursue further education in the sciences.

It was prompted by figures from the Ministry of Higher Education revealing that three quarters of school students are choosing not to study sciences and related topics at university.

The survey was carried out by the Center for Future Studies, an Egyptian government think-tank that also put forward Vision 2030, a strategy to take Egypt to developed-country status and to make it a member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 20 years.

The students blamed poor teaching methods in their schools for their lack of interest in science and mathematics, according to the survey, published in the September issue of Egypt’s Science magazine. 

The study also found that the number of scientists and engineers working in research and development (R&D) in Egypt is about 493 per million citizens, compared with 1,013 in Tunisia and 782 in Morocco.

And Egypt has one patent for every million citizens compared with 16 in China, eight in Iran and 875 in Japan.

"Young people abandoning science is a negative sign for Egypt’s scientific future," said Sahar Abd El Gaied , researcher at The Future Studies Center and the author of the study. 

"A teacher who is enthusiastic about science and mathematics transmits that passion to his students. If the teacher doesn’t like what he is teaching, the students obviously will never like what they are studying.

"Unless we succeed in changing our teaching methods for science and mathematics in schools, so they are more relevant to students’ lives, we can’t overcome this obstacle," Abd El Gaied said.

But Wael El Sharqawy , a mathematics teacher in a secondary school at Giza Governorate said: "Blame the curriculums, not the teachers.

"Even if the teacher is talented and likes what he is teaching, curriculums that depend on learning by rote and not applying what you learn will put the student off."

Ali Hebeish, president of the Egyptian Syndicate of Scientific Professions — a professional organisation for Egyptian scientists — placed responsibility on both sides: "Curriculums can be blamed, but we also can’t let the teachers off," he said.

But he said that the low salaries of scientists compared with other professions could also be putting students off a science career. 

Link to summary of the report[15kB]