Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Monday, September 19, 2005

Egypt Educational system and Ramses College for Girls' graduation

On Saturday we attended the Ramses College for Girls 93rd Annual Commencement ceremony. Unlike America, commencement occurs at the end of summer, generally on the same day the new school year begins. In order to receive their Secondary School Certificate, students must pass a major qualifying exam which lasts about three weeks. Depending on a student’s national ranking, certain students may proceed to the university level. At Ramses College for Girls nearly every woman (or maybe all?) received a passing grade and will attend a university. One’s national rank also determines what programs he or she may enroll. Highest priority is placed on advancement to medical physician training, and only the highest ranking students in the nation are eligible. Another percentage group of students is eligible for the next category of training, and so on. A student who is eligible to go to medical school does not need to attend, but a person with lower ranking would not be allowed to study medicine. In addition, secondary schools prepare students for education either the sciences or humanities. Once you start down one track, that’s it.
At Ramses’ graduation, students were presented certificates according to rank and whether they were going on to “literary” studies or “science” studies. As I watched these young, joyful woman I kept thinking, “They are only 18! How in the world do they know what they want to do?! What if they change their mind?” I had to keep reminding myself that I’m not in America, I’m in Egypt. What a blessing it is to have the freedom to choose our careers and then change our mind in America.
It was obvious we were attending graduation with some of the wealthiest Egyptians. The commencement ceremony took place at the Cairo International Conference Centre and the governor of Cairo was the commencement speaker. The ceremony was conducted in Arabic, English, and French. All 160 some students first gathered here at Ramses College (where I live) and we traveled together on buses to the Centre. It was great to watch these young, beautiful, excited woman chatter away, switching back and forth from Arabic to English. (I could actually understand some of the Arabic too…though not much.) When we arrived at the centre, the girl’s families were there dressed in the finest Egyptian clothing and wearing diamonds so big I figured they must get caught on things all the time. Everyone had a digital camera, and even though we had to walk through a security screening and my camera was taken away, most people managed to get their cameras into the centre. For two hours people kept walking up to the front to take pictures with cameras and cell phones alike.
A couple strange things about the ceremony; First of all, despite the fact that our group of Volunteers personally has little to do with these students (other than the fact that our organization—the PC(USA)—started the school and continues to fund it) we were honored guests once again in that our seats were assigned to the first two rows. Thankfully this time we didn’t get much attention, but it felt horribly wrong and silly for us sit in front when hundreds of people rightfully should be there. Secondly, cell phones are a nuisance! I heard at least 30 cell phones go off, loudly I may add, during the ceremony. People would even answer them! Two years ago when I was in Cairo and went to a movie theatre I noticed the same thing—nearly 1/5 of the people were talking at a normal conversational tone on their cells during the movie. I’m starting to think it’s just an acceptable part of society, but it’s incredibly distracting and annoying!
As long as I’m discussing graduation, I should explain a bit about the educational system in Egypt. From what I’ve learned, I don’t like it. In Egypt it’s all about “the big test.” As I explained, there is one exam students take at the end of secondary education that determines the rest of their life—what school they can get into, the program they will study, and what kind of pay they will eventually make. Of course, this really affects the average school day. Kids don’t come to school to learn, they come to socialize. Why? Their ‘real’ studies are at home where they have private lessons and study hard for the exam. At school they only pay attention to lessons if the information will be on the exam. A few teachers we met during EFL training explained that at the beginning of each class period students ask, “Is this going to be on the exam?” If students have any reason to believe it won’t be, they won’t pay attention. The cycle only grows. Teachers earn about 200 pounds/month (very little money) but they can earn a lot more in shorter time by working as a tutor outside of class for the wealthier families who can afford to pay for a tutor. Therefore, teachers sometimes reinforce that school doesn’t matter because they don’t/won’t teach for the exam and thus increase the demand for tutors. Here’s a bigger-picture problem—with this system the rich are going to continue to be rich and the poor continue to be poor. Why? Only the wealthier Egyptians can afford a tutor, therefore they tend to do better on the exam and thus get into better universities. A very cyclical problem and I hope it will change soon.


  • At 8/04/2006, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It was so nice to read your blog about the commencement. I myself am an RCG graduate. But during my time, 1987, we did not have any cell phones and we even had the party at the school chapel. It was so much fun!

  • At 4/06/2008, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm also hate their systems, really annoying.


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