Egypt backtracks on licensing private tutorial centres

Education minister criticises 'bad practices' at private centres and announces government's own supplementary education system

Pupils at Notre Dame School in Cairo attend the first day of the new academic year on October 1, 2022. EPA
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Egypt's Education Minister Reda Hegazy has told legislators that the government will not go ahead with plans to license private tutorial centres, citing concerns about their teaching methods and that the move might render public schools obsolete.

Mr Hegazy told parliament’s education committee this week that his ministry would instead be cracking down on “bad practices” at private centres while promoting its own supplementary classes to rival them, according to Parlmany, a government-affiliated news outlet that exclusively covers parliament.

"Issuing licences to private tutoring centres was only an idea that we were trying out. However, even though I am personally against them, I recognise that they are a symptom of a larger disease that we have to address," Mr Hegazy said.

The Education Ministry said in October that it was in talks with parliament about drafting a bill to legalise private tutoring centres, which have a combined annual revenue of about 47 billion Egyptian pounds ($1.93bn), according to ministry figures.

The announcement drew a backlash on social media from parents, many of whom suggested that the government was legalising the centres only to be able to tax them.

Private tutoring centres have always been somewhat contentious in Egypt because their services compete with public schools, and despite being unregulated by the government, they have always been allowed to stay open because of the incredibly high demand for them from parents and students alike.

Former education minister Tarek Shawqi, who was replaced by Mr Hegazy in a Cabinet shuffle in August, tried to shut them down last year. Students, however, continued to attend private classes in more discreet settings.

Mr Hegazy initially said he would "accept reality" and license the tutorial centres, but reportedly told the parliamentary committee he had changed his mind over concerns that public schools could be rendered obsolete if parents chose to send their children only to private centres.

He said up to 70 per cent of the centres could be closed in the coming year because some of them were teaching classes in a manner that the ministry considered “rude” and “unconventional”.

Mr Hegazy also announced that the ministry had contracted a private company to revamp a government supplementary education system, launched under former president Hosni Mubarak, that costs less than the tutorial centres. He said the company had agreed to take on the project in exchange for 10 per cent of any profits.

Known as “reinforcement groups”, the old system entailed holding private lessons at public schools after hours for a fee. It failed to rival private centres because of a lack of funding to pay teachers and to buy resources.

However, Mr Hegazy expressed hope that a new update to allow students to choose their teachers for the sessions would encourage more of them to join, which would in turn result in less business for private centres.

Many parents, especially of students aged 15 to 18, prefer to rely on private centres because they are better equipped and make more of an effort to ensure their teachers are adequate. However, their children continue to attend public school classes in some capacity and take their exams there at the end of each year.

Although Mr Hegazy said the decision to license private centres was scrapped because of their bad practices, some parents speculated that it was because the centres were reluctant to pay taxes to the government out of their pocket and would pass the cost to parents.

Parents complained en masse on social media and to the ministry of education about the expected increase in fees for private lessons, which are already high for some families, especially in light of the economic crisis.

“People pay taxes to the government in exchange for certain benefits, but what exactly is the government offering these centres that warrants the additional cost? Nothing. Which is why there was an uproar in all these parent groups on social media that I am a part of. We knew we would be the ones bearing the additional costs and no one has any money right now so the response was intense,” Noura Ahmed, 47, a mother of two, told The National..

Over the years public schools have repeatedly come under fire because of their large class sizes, low teacher salaries and lack of funding.

They faced renewed criticism last month after a staircase at a school collapsed, killing one girl and injuring 15 others.

Updated: November 03, 2022, 3:11 PM