Educational Privatization and the Collapse of State Institutions under Mubarak

Conference Paper to be presented by Hania Sobhy

Hania Sobhy is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Orient-Institut Beirut where she is writing up her research on Pro-Revolution Mobilization in Egyptian Elections 2012-2014. In 2012-2013, she was a postdoctoral Fellow with the EUME program of the Forum Transregionale Studien

The vast majority of Egyptian students attend public schools and free universal education remains a constitutionally enshrined right. However, 50-80% of students attend regular private tutoring in most subjects in a highly segregated system. This places a huge financial burden on households so that private spending on education now exceeds public spending. Despite this duplicated expenditure, most teachers remain grossly underpaid and the quality of schooling has declined to the extent that education is routinely declared ‘non-existent’ by Egyptians: mafeesh taleem.

The implications of this ‘privatization-by-tutoring’ do not only include poor quality, higher inequality and resource waste. The very content of youth schooling experiences has also been fundamentally altered. In addition to ‘teaching to the exam’ in key subjects, without attention to the actual development of knowledge and skills, there has been an effective elimination of the ‘activities’ subjects that not linked to student grades; such as music, sports, arts, theatre, civics and school trips. As students increasingly obtain their education on the market and attend school irregularly, this has led to the effective elimination of the school itself as a key arena for youth socialization and the production of nationhood, especially at the secondary level. The condition of public schooling therefore exemplifies the privatization, informalization and dysfunction of state institutions under Mubarak; whether as providers of social services or as sites for the production of citizenship.

In this brief presentation, my aim is to explain, through figures and data, and through live examples based on my fieldwork, what it actually means that, with 17 million students and 2 million employees, there is ‘no education’ in Egypt; and to bring to light the different manifestations of this educational dysfunction in a highly tracked and unequal system.


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