The Informal Education Sector in Egypt: Between State, Market and Civil Society

Research Project (to be discussed at the Winter Academy) by Sarah Hartmann.

Sarah Hartmann is a doctoral candidate at the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies at Freie Universität Berlin. Her research interests include youth, education and social class in the Arab World as well as anthropological and political science approaches to statehood and informality.

This PhD project explores the relationship between Egyptian citizens and the state through an analysis of the widespread practice of private tutoring for school students, i.e. by taking a closer look at the coexistence, interdependence and entanglement of formal institutions and informal practices in the Egyptian education sector. Based on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Cairo in 2009-2010, it provides a detailed account and analysis of some of the institutions, actors, social relations, and discourses involved in the provision of supplementary tutoring for school students, with a special focus on tutoring centers in lower income neighborhoods of Cairo. Despite its socio-economic and political significance, no in-depth ethnographic study of this phenomenon has been undertaken so far. The project aims to contribute to current debates on statehood and informal institutions in anthropology and political science. While tutoring developed as a coping strategy to compensate for the deficiencies of an underfunded and overburdened public education system, a means for teachers to supplement their meager salaries, and a strategy for students and parents confronted with the pressures of a strongly examination-oriented education system, it has turned into a generalized and deeply engrained feature of Egyptian educational culture during the last decades, with social, economic and political effects and implications that go far beyond the teaching and learning process itself. The ideal of the welfare state is increasingly replaced by neoliberal values of entrepreneurship, consumerism, and the privatization of risk and responsibility, rendering access to education and other services dependent on the financial means of the individual.


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