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Expensive classrooms, poor learning: The imperatives of reforming school construction in Egypt


Sobhy,  Hania       
Socio-Cultural Diversity, MPI for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Max Planck Society;

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Sobhy, H. (2019). Expensive classrooms, poor learning: The imperatives of reforming school construction in Egypt. Alternative Policy Solutions: Policy Paper.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0006-0B7C-4
Egyptian schools suffer from systematic deficiencies that affect student learning, attendance, health, and dignity. These include a discrepancy between needs and actual construction projects, very poor maintenance, and massive school shortages leading to high density, overcrowding, and multiple-shift schools. Egypt’s average classroom density of 47.5 students/classroom in the primary stage is higher than the average in countries such as India and China. More than 75% of Egyptian students are in classrooms that have over 40 students. Such high classroom densities have a strongly negative impact on learning, especially at the critical primary stage.

Not only does Egypt’s high average classroom density obscure large variations across the country, it also hides the problem of multiple-shift schools, where more than one school population uses the same facilities. Only one third of Egyptian public school students attend single-shift schools: the remaining 12.7 million children (of whom 7 million are in the primary stage) have to cope with overcrowded classrooms. They also have a smaller window of learning time and are often deprived of classes considered less essential like arts, music, and physical education. These conditions directly contribute to poor learning and student dropout, as well as seriously undermining equality within the system. These inadequate learning conditions, compounded by sanitary and maintenance problems, disproportionately affect those students who are already disadvantaged.

Official estimates point to the need to construct 250,000 new classrooms at a cost of 130 billion Egyptian pounds (EGP) ($7.3 billion).1 This massive construction campaign must be guided by a restructuring of Egypt’s current school construction system under new parameters that will ensure better quality, lower costs, and less resource waste. School shortages and high construction costs are driven by the way in which the system is designed and managed; restrictive and unnecessary requirements increase construction costs while undermining the allocation of land for schools. Highly centralized procurement procedures contribute to high costs, resource waste, and allegations of corruption plague almost every step of the school construction process.

Whereas some aspects of school construction in Egypt may be unique, many of the problems associated with the system are shared by other countries. Drawing on both the local context and relevant international data, this paper provides a comprehensive analysis of this under-researched topic, suggests alternative indicators that should be used to better enhance school construction efforts, and puts forward six key policy recommendations for reforming school construction. The recommendations are all part of a necessary restructuring of the regime of school construction and the main entity responsible for it, the General Authority for Educational Buildings (GAEB).