Parents across Egypt are protesting poor school conditions as their kids return to the classroom. Some parents blocked roads, while others are threatening hunger strikes if the government doesn’t intervene to improve the situation.
Teacher absenteeism, overcrowded classrooms and costly private tuition are among the grievances aired by the disgruntled parents.
In the southern Aswan town of Kom Ombo, aggrieved parents blocked off streets on Thursday after learning that numerous teachers were absent from their classrooms at Fatma al-Zahraa Public School.
“Teacher absenteeism is a problem not just in Aswan, but in other governorates as well. We have reported that teacher absenteeism is most prevalent in public schools, as it is a problem typically associated with the poor wages that such public school teachers receive,” said Rabab Esmat, a council member of the Association of Student’s Parents (a group of concerned parents who send their children to either private or public schools).
As part of a report on the issue, photos posted on the privately owned Youm7 news site showed parents blocking streets with their bodies and cars in the village of Selwa Bahari, where the Fatma al-Zahraa School is located.
The protesting parents demanded that local education authorities enforce the teachers’ professional obligations by ensuring that they are present in their classrooms and providing students with their daily lessons, said the Youm7 report.
Youm7 also published another article on Thursday pertaining to the overcrowding of public schools in the Nile Delta governorate of Sharqiya. According to parents’ accounts of the educational experience at the Nasser Experimental School in the town of Minya al-Kamh, the number of students there has nearly doubled in each classroom, totaling over 70 students per teacher.
Nashwa Sobhy, a parent whose child is enrolled at the school, reported that “since the beginning of the academic year [this Monday], the number of students has increased from 40 to 73.”
Sobhy claimed that this increase was due to the administration’s decision to cut the number of primary school classrooms by half in order to use these spaces for other educational purposes.
Esmat asserted that the problem of overcrowded classrooms is even more acute in other governorates.
“In Alexandria, we’ve reported that some public schools are packed far beyond capacity, with up to 120 students per class,” she said.
This chronic shortage of classrooms has negatively impacted an already poor standard of education. Esmat explained that the average private school has classrooms with a capacity of 35 to 45 students per class, and that overcrowding denies students the opportunity to ask questions, to participate in class or to interact with their teachers.
Youm7 posted photos of angry parents protesting outside the Nasser Experimental School, with reports indicating they would escalate their actions — including embarking on sit-in protests and hunger strikes — if their demands for more classroom space and teachers are not met.
The news site reported that some of the primary classrooms at the Nasser Experimental School are being used to store cooking-gas cylinders to use in cooking classes for older students, thus endangering children’s health, and even their lives.
The Al-Azhar Institute for religious education in the Sharqiya town of Faqqous provides lessons in classrooms that hold around 100 students each, according to an article published on the privately owned Al-Watan news site on Thursday.
Overcrowding has prompted the school’s administrators to distribute some of its students to other institutes affiliated to Al-Azhar in that area, some of which are over 10 km away from the home campus.
Al-Watan also reported that Al-Qalya’aya Primary School — a public school in the southern governorate of Sohag — has classrooms that are so overcrowded, up to five students sit at each desk.
Scuffles and fistfights between parents and staff have broken out in several public schools in Sharqiya this week, Al-Watan reported, largely triggered by overcrowded classrooms and the redistribution of students to other public schools.
Esmat explained that this transfer of students to less-crowded public schools nearby is more than problematic, and is also becoming increasingly common.
“These schools which the students are being relocated to usually have two separate working hours in the same day,” she said. “Those who are relocated often find themselves attending evening classes. This is a great inconvenience for both parents and students.”