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Will changes in Egypt bring better education for its children?

Any new government of Egypt is going to face a host of problems, but one of the most pressing is the failure of the country’s education system.

A recent study conducted by the charity Plan, found that girls in particular were dropping out of school because of the poor quality of the education. With many schools suffering from overcrowding and unqualified teaching staff, parents are frequently deciding that their daughters are not learning any valuable skills for work. Families then look for alternative ways of providing for their daughters and early marriage is seen as an attractive solution.

In Egypt, it is illegal for girls under the age of 16 to marry. However, poor families often remove girls aged 13-15 in order to prepare them for marriage. In its recent report ‘Breaking Vows; Early and Forced Marriage and Girls’ Education’, one mother told the charity Plan – “If my daughter gets married....[her husband] will feed her and she will be well dressed. This will give me the opportunity to take care of the other siblings.”

The charity found that early marriage in Egypt was the main barrier to achieving universal primary education in the country and to promoting gender equality, particularly in rural communities. And though there were a number of factors governing whether a girl stayed on in school, the poor quality of learning played a key part in the decision. Egypt spends a smaller proportion of its gross domestic product on education than most Arab states. However, the low quality of its schooling is mainly due to lack of proper management and trained staff. According to a report by ‘The Economist’, the ministry of education employs as many bureaucrats as teachers and there is no national teaching accreditation system.

With families also concerned about their daughters facing gender-based violence in school, taking girls out of education to marry often appears to be a good solution. However, Plan highlights cases in Egypt where young girls are left by their husbands shortly after marriage. This is particularly happening where Egyptian girls are sought as brides by men in the Gulf States. When their husbands tire of them, some are being returned a few months later, often pregnant. Sometimes girls have been married four or five times, effectively becoming victims of a kind of sex-trafficking. The charity is working to hold awareness sessions for parents and children about the problems surrounding early marriage. Plays and performances on the issue are given in schools and teachers are trained to talk with families about keeping girls in education.

Egypt’s interim government this week announced that elections will be held in the country in November, after a proper timeframe for political candidates to register themselves. It will be interesting to see if any of the country’s prospective new leaders campaign on the issue of education.

Laurinda Luffman signature