At a time when Egyptian society seems to be trapped in a vortex of distortion and confusion around religious norms, the state has made a new attempt to reinforce its paternal role as guardian of the morals of society and protector of Egyptian national identity.
The Ministry of Education recently released a new book, “A teacher’s guide to values, ethics and citizenship,” meant to serve as a reference for teachers to nurture their students’ ethical values and nationalistic ideals.
In a press conference for the release of the new guide, Minister of Endowments Mohamed Gomaa praised the initiative. “We all recognize the urgent need to go back to our ethics,” he said.
According to privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper, Minister of Education Mahmoud Abul Nasr said the guide, which was written by teachers and revised by the Endowments Minister, aims to revive our values and ethics through teachers, who are the role models for students.
“The Ministry is trying to re-establish values we have lost due to the need for students to memorize a content heavy curriculum,” Nasr said.
“It is not new for the Ministry to see itself as the beacon of light for society or the link that will make it flourish,” says Farida Makar, researcher in the history of modern education in Egypt.
Makar compared the new teachers’ guide to a book that was part of the training in “The Teachers College,” in 1914, by the name, “Foundations of education and the art of teaching.”
“Every once in a while, the Ministry takes on the responsibility for ‘improving’ society … In 1914, it was the family that was considered ignorant and non-hygienic, creating a need for the school to step in and build the nation. In 1990, it was the need to fight Islamization. In this guide, we have become immoral because of various factors and the school needs to preserve the nation,” Makar says.
The book begins with the shared moral values of monotheistic religions, which it says “constitute the ethical foundation for good nationalism.” It offers a theoretical framework, supported by examples from Islamic and Christian teachings, in addition to a practical section that lists various exercises and activities that teachers should use to enhance the moral and patriotic values of their students.
Every teacher is asked to identify with the content of the guide, apply the different activities, do some research on their students through surveys and interviews to help satisfy their needs, and assign them various exercises to stimulate them while respecting their personal differences.
A foreword to the guide, by the minister of education, discusses the role of the Ministry and public opinion that shapes ethical values. Another introduction is written by the endowments minister, about the common humanitarian messages in religions. A third introductory piece is by the spokesman of the Coptic Orthodox church, Booles Halim, offering examples of common ethical values in different religious beliefs.
The guide aims to promote religious values in relation to the scientific revolution, creating an Egyptian charter of ethics, in order to deal with what it refers to as the threat of globalization on national and cultural identity and resist intolerance, violence and extremism.
Each of the integrated sample activities in the guide aims to teach one or more ethical values, such as nationalism, a sense of belonging, friendship, honesty, rationalization of consumption, commitment, among others. One of the exercises urges the students to make a scale model showing the Nile Basin countries, which is designed to teach them about hygiene, loyalty, cooperation and unity.
Five more extensive activities in the guide are designed around a 40-minute group work session that teaches students about values such as personal hygiene. There are also extracurricular activities, including how to do research, theatrical performance, field trips, chants, educational songs and short stories.
Makar questions the guide’s claim that a morality crisis in Egypt is the result of external factors, such as the scientific revolution and the cultural fallout of September 11, claiming that this overlooks many shortfalls within society itself.
“How can you not talk about economic, social and political issues … Why aren’t you talking about a lack of religiosity and increasing immoral actions?” she asks, adding, “It is another way for the ‘paternal state’ to say, ‘We know better and we will instruct you.’ The solution is not to distribute a book to teachers.”
A study by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights presented an analysis of the country’s various school curricula to date, in relation to history, nationalism, and the international legal framework that defines the right of education.
“Throughout this study, we have shown that the current nationalist discourse is alarming for a number of reasons, the most important of which is its insistence on omitting alternative histories, its suppression of diversity and its failure to promote tolerance and co-existence,” the study concluded, urging for radical change in the education system based on a centralized ideology.
Makar, who was one of the researchers for EIPR’s study, explains that the state has always attempted to prescribe its own version of morality; eliminating pluralism, killing diversity and creating obedient citizens. “The state is playing the role of ‘the pedagogue,’ while overstating religious discourse and not taking into account the relativism of morals. It has a tailored framework of what is right and wrong.”