Evidence suggests that the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is the quality of the teacher.
I believe that this is the time for reform in education in Egypt. We need to tackle our vast problems in education, immediately, if our school systems are to become what they were meant to be—institutions that truly educate and enable and prepare our children for the challenges of the future. Education reform is at the top of the agenda of almost every country in the world, and Egypt is no exception. While there are myriad factors that need to be addressed, some requiring more resources then others, the following three factors are key to ensuring sustainably excellent education in Egypt: 1) getting the right people to become teachers; 2) developing teachers into effective instructors; 3) and ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.
Among these, evidence suggests that the main driver of the variation in student learning at school is the quality of the teacher. At the primary level, students that are placed with low-performing teachers for several years in a row suffer an educational loss that is largely irreversible. (Mckinsey report, 2006/2007)
Getting the right people to become teachers
To attract the right people to the profession of teaching, government and universities mustThe following three factors are key to ensuring sustainably excellent education in Egypt: 1) getting the right people to become teachers; 2) developing teachers into effective instructors; 3) and ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child. make it highly competitive and attractive for high school graduates to enter the field of teaching, screening candidates before they enter the field of teaching in order to find the correct applicants with the skills necessary for this profession. For candidates to become effective teachers, they must possess a certain set of characteristics that can be identified before they enter teaching: a high overall level of literacy and numeracy, strong interpersonal and communications skills, a willingness to learn, and the motivation to teach. Selection procedures need to be designed to test for these skills and attributes, as well as to select those applicants who possess them.
While some may argue that this level of care is a luxury that a country like Egypt cannot afford, I strongly believe that investing resources in this area is critical to the sustained improvement of our education system. The Ministry of Education must put a strong emphasis on the academic achievement of teaching candidates, their communication skills and their motivations for teaching. It should instate an exam that tests numeracy, literacy and problem-solving skills. Next, the top-scoring candidates should pass through to the second round in the selection procedure, run by the individual universities where the applicants are tested for their communication skills, willingness to learn, academic ability, and motivation for teaching. Teachers need to be selected before they start their teacher training and spaces available need to be limited to those selected.
The other essential ingredient for getting the right people to become teachers is to provide good starting pay. “Systems which frontload compensation succeed because of two factors: first, salary progression is less important in the decision to become a teacher than starting salary and, secondly, teacher retention is generally not correlated strongly to salary progression.” (Mckinsey, 2007) The bottom line, then, is that the ability to attract the right people has more to do with the status of teachers in a society. Once teaching becomes a high status profession, more talented people will strive to become teachers, raising the bar of the profession even higher.
Developing teachers into effective instructors
One could define the entire task of (a school) system in this way: its role is to ensure that when a teacher enters the classroom they have the materials available, along with the knowledge, the capability and the ambition to take one more child up to the standard today that they did yesterday. And again tomorrow. (Barber, 2005) The top-performing schoolTo attract the right people to the profession of teaching, government and universities must make it highly competitive and attractive for high school graduates to enter the field of teaching systems recognize that the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction. Learning occurs when students and teachers interact, and thus to improve learning implies improving the quality of that interaction. This can be achieved through coaching classroom practice, moving teacher training to the classroom, developing stronger school leaders, and enabling teachers to learn from each other.
Most importantly for Egypt, if we are to improve the quality of instruction of a single teacher, we need to develop the systems to create these conditions for all teachers. This is a massive undertaking, to be sure, but with our vast human capital, and the non-resource intensive nature of teaching teachers, it is nevertheless achievable, one teacher at a time.
Ensuring that the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child
High performing school systems construct effective interventions at the level of the school, identifying schools that are not performing satisfactorily, and get involved to raise standards of performance. The very best systems further intervene at the level of the individual student, developing processes and structures within schools that are able to identify whenever a student is starting to fall behind, and then working to improve that child’s performance. To ensure that every child receives the best possible education, teachers must therefore maintain the highest level of involvement with their students.
By the same token, it is essential that our school systems in Egypt guarantee that every child has access to excellent instruction by ensuring that the school can compensate for disadvantages that may result from the student’s home environment. To make sure that this happens in Egypt, we need to set standards and expectations that are both clear and high for what our individual students should know, understand, and be able to do. While the process of selecting curricula and standards is often long, difficult, and controversial, some commonalities are clear when looking at the world’s top-systems and their curricula: an emphasis on numeracy and literacy is critical in the early years; standards, assessment, and instruction need to be closely aligned to the curriculum; and clear and high expectations need to be set for the performance of ALL students.
The key for Egypt’s school systems to succeed is to adopt a combination of monitoring and effective intervention—at the school and the individual level—to ensure that good instruction is delivered consistently across the system. While this is no easy task, it is a change that definitely can, and needs to be addressed, if Egypt is to compete with other countries in the world. School reform starts with one person choosing to make a difference in our children’s lives. Make that person YOU!
Randa Shoeb is an educator and holds Master's Degrees in Education from Pacific Lutheran University and in Educational Administration from Michigan State University. She previously taught grades 7- 9 English and is currently the Elementary School Principal of Schutz American School in Alexandria, Egypt