I recently took a cab to work (I was late for the school bus and thus was forced to dish out 20 L.E. to a cabby). I usually make conversation with Cab drivers, usually because they cannot seem to be able to drive for any distance without being involved in some kind of conversation. Im guessing this keeps the boredom at bay. So, anyways, the driver turned out to be a department head at the Ministry of Planning. I found that interesting.
You see, Department heads are like 4-5 Hierarchial levels away from Minister. They are above the middle echelons of the organization. But this guy was driving a cab! Of course, I didn’t just get into the cab and have the man announce that he was a department head. We began talking about something or the other and then he informed me that one of his children was taking English courses at some center or institute. Then we began discussing the concept of private lessons in Egypt and, of course, the state of the Egyptian educational system.
Now we get to the meat of the matter. The Crux of the Issue.
Economically speaking, Egypt is considered an under-developed state. I won’t get into the economic details and statistics (mainly because I dont have the numbers memorized and I’m too lazy to search for them now) but suffice to say that the country is lagging behind… and badly. This is especially obvious to all those who reside in Egypt. The number of poor people is appalling. The number of people who get poorer everyday is even more appalling. Our Economy is more and more relying on the services sector, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for the fact that Egypt almost defines the classic example of a rentier state; we get all our income from… things that are already there.
So what are Egypt’s sources of income?
2. Suez Canal Revenues.
3. Remittances from workers abroad.
5. (RECENTLY) Selling off public institutions.
So we’re basically producing nothing and getting money for things that we never did.
I could begin to list all the reasons why Egypt has no industrial capacity: the conflicts that we were involved in for years and that still ear-mark the region as risky to possible investors, the Nasserist and Sadatist legacies, the conspicuous consumption carried out by most Egyptians who can afford to invest etc etc etc.
But that’s not it. Not really. Deep down, if we search and dig and uncover, I believe the root of the problem is Education.
I am one of those political economists who strongly believe that Education is a main driving factor, if not the most important factor, behind a state’s ability to develop, industrialize or at least become a world economic power. China was able to prove that you do not need to produce and export high-tech products in order to succeed. Not at all. Then again, it wouldn’t be rational to compare Egypt with China because of the differences in the past, now and for sometime. Korea has also been able to prove that investing in education will mean a high return in terms of (and I hate to use this expression which I consider quite derogatory) “Human Capital”.
Let’s look at it in a simpler fashion. Germany, the UK, the US, France along with some other industrialized nations have an economy that is heavily based on production. That is, an economy based on skilled or semi-skilled manual laborers. We don’t even have that in beautiful Egypt. Our vocational schools are so out-dated and so pathetically inadequate that those graduating for them probably wouldnt qualify to be apprentices in the shabbiest family-owned factories in the poorest industrial country.
When High School teachers, administration and staff choose to give their students above average to high grades so that these same students can specialize in their field of choice, that really does not help at all. Twenty years from now, we’ll read about another building falling or patient dying because some son-of-a-bitch Doctor or Engineer (inadequately trained and educated) couldn’t do his job properly.
There is so much more I want to write about this, and I will, but for now… I’m too exhausted!