Kerdasa’s school accident: Scant governmental spending dilapidate public schools in Egypt

The first days of the new academic year (2022/2023) in Egypt witnessed the death of a middle school student and the injury of 15 others after a wall staircase of their school fell on them due to the deterioration of the school building since the seventies of the last century and the failure to maintain it. Simultaneously, social media sites were filled with images of students sleeping on the floor instead of chairs and others crammed into classes. This is a continuation of the education crisis that has existed for years, undermining the quality of the learning environment. Although the government acknowledges the problem, it refuses to solve it. According to official statements, it does not abide by the constitutional rates of spending on education, claiming that there are no financial resources for that, while construction continues in the new administrative capital, whose first phase costs only $25 billion.

A shortage of schools, classes, and teachers

The number of government schools, in their various stages, during the last academic year 2021/2022, amounted to 49 thousand and 67 schools, while the number of classrooms reached 457 thousand and 900 classes, which are supposed to accommodate 22 million and 504 thousand students, according to the annual statistics book issued by the Ministry of Education. The average density of students at all levels of schools is 49.15 students per class. This percentage varies according to the educational stage, as the average density in primary schools is 54.98 students per class. This percentage also decreases and increases according to the population in the area where the school is located and reaches more than 75 students per class in some areas of Cairo, Qalyubia and Giza.

Official figures confirm that the crisis has worsened over the years and is not resolved. In the 2014/2015 academic year (the beginning of President Sisi’s term), the number of schools was 43,854, the number of classes was 410,357, and the number of students was 17,451 thousand, with an average density of 42.53 students per class. This means that during the last six academic years, the number of public schools increased by 5,213, with an average of only 869 schools annually, and the number of classes increased by 47,543. This increase is not commensurate with the rise in the number of students during these years, which amounted to 5 million and 53 thousand students, which led to an increase in the density of classes by 6.6 students per class.

The government is aware of a significant deficit in the number of schools and classes. The Minister of Education has previously admitted a shortage of 250 thousand of classes. Still, he said that the cost of filling this deficit is 120 billion pounds, provided that the number of students remains stable, a fee of which only 12 billion pounds are available annually. This is equivalent to only 10% of the required, according to the data for the academic year 2021/2022.

On the other hand, the number of teachers in public schools during the last academic year, 2021/2022, reached approximately 874,000. This is less than the 2014/2015 academic year, during which the number of teachers reached 905,000. This means that the number of teachers decreased by 31,000 in 6 years, despite increasing the number of students by more than 5 million. The government admits there is a shortfall of 300,000 teachers but confirms that it does not have the financial resources to hire such a large number of teachers. The deficit is due to the suspension of government appointments since 2016 on the orders of President El-Sisi. Early this year, the government announced a plan to appoint 30,000 teachers annually for five years, totalling 150,000. But although it alleviates the severity of the current crisis, the crisis will still exist significantly since student numbers are increasing exponentially every year.

Circumvention of the constitution

As it is clear from the previous presentation, all the education crises in Egypt are mainly due to weak financial allocations; Ending the problem of classroom density needs 120 billion pounds, raising the efficiency of school infrastructure needs funds, and appointing new teachers in addition to improving their conditions requires financial allocations. This crisis was strongly present in the minds of the drafters of the Egyptian constitution, so a constitutional text was drawn up that stipulates that the state commits to allocating a percentage of government spending for primary and university education not less than 6% of the gross national product, and gradually it escalates until it is in line with global rates.

In reality, the government does not spend this percentage, and it circumvents the education allocations by adding other provisions to it to “sham” conform to the constitution, according to a study by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. For example, the allocations for education (pre-university and university) in the budget for the current fiscal year 2022/2023 amount to 192.6 billion pounds, representing approximately 2% of the GDP expected to reach 9.22 trillion pounds. But the government circumvents the constitution and raises these allocations to nearly 600 billion pounds by adding other items, such as the Al-Azhar budget. The government also distributes “nominally” the interests of the debts it owes to the various budget items in proportions corresponding to the share of each item of expenditure.

The World Bank, in a report issued a few days ago, entitled “Reviewing Public Expenditure in Egypt for the Human Development Sectors”, criticized the low volume of government spending on education and health and said that spending levels are “low according to international standards, and their real value is decreasing despite the aspirations of Egypt mentioned in the constitution,” stressing that “the shortage of teachers and classes has undermined the quality of the learning environment in pre-university education.”