A look at Egypt’s education misconceptions

A look at Egypt’s education misconceptions


By Islam El-Kenawy, Aswat Masriya

From the day you are born, you are expected to grow up to be a holder of a bachelor’s degree of some sorts. They teach you that anything different is less; there isn’t even an option of not going to a university to attain your mighty academic degree. That is the light at the beginning of your life as an average Egyptian. You could almost hear your parents say, “My son is growing up to be a great doctor/engineer!” before you can understand what any of those words mean.

In our community, be it recently or years ago, the idea of deciding not to go to college is considered taboo; an insult to yourself and your family. Even those who spend their entire childhood and teenage years playing a sport, putting all their life into it, are often forced -be it indirectly or not – to put it on “hold” and go to college, where their sports career will most likely meet its demise for good.

This is not the only elitist aspect of our middle class – and higher – community that we face with an open heart and zero objections. While almost anywhere in the world it’s highly encouraged to find a job while studying; be it waitressing at a cafe, or any form of menial work, you are very unlikely to see a student here, or anyone from a middle class family accept a job of “that kind.” The kind they categorize as unacceptable, the kind they believe is not respectable enough of a job. The real problem is that the youth would not even dare to think of getting a job like that unless they desperately have to, because it’s implanted in our heads to think this way from the day we are born.

For example, the idea of working as a waitress in our society when you’re a university student would leave a look of awe on most faces, even those who are not very wealthy and do need the financial help would not take it upon themselves. A classist society that categorizes jobs arbitrarily with discriminative ideologies is what we have to live in today.

A still from the short film: What do you dream of?
A still from the short film: What do you dream of?

You don’t have to hit rock bottom to start taking care of yourself, taking the initiative when you don’t need to is probably one of the most self-strengthening methods. Not only does it teach you plenty about your own capabilities, but it also destroys any sense of dependence you may have acquired over the years of spending your parents’ money. Yes, they are your parents, but that doesn’t resolve a conscience from the slightly obnoxious feelings of dependence you get every now and then.

It’s not a shame to choose something you prefer over higher education, and it should not be considered taboo. The wallet emptying years of endless studying you could spend to get a degree of any sort of “higher education,” just to please your parents or the society’s glorified elitist views, will most likely yield you nothing but even more hardships in life. The average honourable doctor or engineer – the holy degrees to our parents – make less than a thousand pounds monthly in their first few years following graduation, if they’re lucky enough to find a job that is.

Isn’t it enough that we look down on an artistic craft like carpentry for example? Are we that much of a hypocritical society, to keep looking down on skill requiring crafts and encourage our youth to steer away from it? How many people out there would have found their passion in carpentry if they were exposed to it without being told, whether directly or indirectly, that it should never be their choice?

Egyptian hand-crafting items at Khan El-Khalili
Egyptian hand-crafting items at Khan El-Khalili

Whether you finish your so-called “higher education” degree with the highest grades, choose not to go to college at all, or simply pick the unpopular option of developing a craft, it all comes down to picking what you truly want. That does include both the option of picking what you love and/or what you think would be best suited for you, as long as you do not let the misinformed judgmental opinions of our elitist community influence your decision.

Having a forced habit of needing to pick your career of choice right after you finish high school does not help at all either. Not everyone is capable of knowing what they truly want by the age of 16-18; it should also not be taboo to choose to be on an educational hiatus until you figure out what you want.

Regardless of how many victims of those predefined ideologies are out there, it’s almost always never too late to go for a change.

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Aswat Masriya is a Thomson Reuters Foundation-sponsored website that covers Egypt's transition to democracy. en.aswatmasriya.com

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