EGYPT: Future of teacher colleges uncertain

Five years after graduating from a teacher training college in Egypt, Fouad Abdel Halim, 27, has lost hope of a career in teaching. "Since my graduation, I have been unable to get a job as a school teacher. I have to make both ends meet by doing casual jobs such as working as a store clerk, a secretary and even a wall-painter," he said. Halim is one of thousands of graduates from teacher colleges who have failed to find teaching work because their numbers far outstrip demand.

Around 26 public teacher training colleges in Egypt churn out some 250,000 graduates annually but the tight job market needs only 100,000, according to experts.

Until the 1990s, the Egyptian government was committed to providing jobs for graduate teachers at state-run schools. This used to encourage secondary school-leavers to attend teacher colleges. Since then the government, pursuing an ambitious economic reform programme based on privatisation and deregulation, has dropped the commitment.

"Over the past two years, the number of students attending colleges of teachers has been dwindling due to increasing unemployment rates among their graduates," said Ahmed Yehia, a professor at the University of Suez's College of Teachers, some 110 kilometres north-east of Cairo.

"Those applying to attend these colleges are mostly interested in joining departments of languages and kindergartens, which guarantee them a job after graduation." According to Yehia, this situation has resulted in some departments at teacher colleges enrolling very few students. "Eventually non-attractive departments such as those of history, geography and philosophy will close down," he predicted, adding that this would not be a problem since "similar departments already exist at colleges of arts".

But Mohamed Hamed, a professor in the College of Teachers at Ain Shams, Egypt's second biggest public university, disagrees and asserts that teacher colleges do an "irreplaceable" job. "Graduates from colleges of teachers are totally different from those of colleges of arts," Hamed told University World News.

"The former are groomed to be schoolteachers," he explained, while students majoring in arts can pursue careers other than teaching. Hamed believes closing down teacher colleges or some of their departments would be "illogical" and harm the Egyptian education system.

In recent months there have been rumours that the Ministry of Higher Education plans to close some teacher colleges for good.

"This is baseless," said Salwa Ghareeb, Secretary-General of the Higher Council for Universities, a governmental agency overseeing higher educations institutions. "On the contrary, there is great interest in supporting and upgrading colleges of teachers. To this end, some US$13 million from the World Bank has been earmarked for developing these colleges and raising the standards of their graduates."

The official added in recent remarks in the local press that under a development plan, around 12,000 students at teacher colleges had been trained in computer literacy and the English language. "In addition, these colleges have been provided with advanced labs for practical studies, and their textbooks have been upgraded, using e-learning methods."