A Tale Of Two Students: On Conditions Of How Students Are Treated In Egyptian Schools

A Tale Of Two Students: On Conditions Of How Students Are Treated In Egyptian Schools


I was the ideal student. If you were a teacher, you would want me in your class. I was a bright kid, I always did my homework, I participated in class and I rarely caused any trouble. Except this one time, in either 4th or 5th grade, I don’t remember what I did, or didn’t do but my Maths teacher thought it deserved punishment.

My punishment was not to erase the blackboard after every class, write a word a hundred times, or even not go to recess that day. My punishment was to stand outside the class.

Just stand there, so that I could feel my feet hurt and my guilt would be alive and well. I must have done something awful to deserve physical pain; I guess I just didn’t know it at the time.

Do you think I threw caution to the wind and sat down on the floor every other minute? Well, I didn’t. I always did what I was told, especially at school.

After a few minutes, nature called. I knocked on the door-because I couldn’t simply open the door without knocking- and asked the teacher if I could use the bathroom.

 She said no.

 I walked outside the classroom again, and stood right outside. The bathroom was just down the hall. Do you think I went to the bathroom anyway because it was a very slim chance that the teacher would find out? Well I didn’t.

Whenever I remember this day I regret that I didn’t break the rules and went to the bathroom anyway. What fear I must have had of my teacher! Or was it respect?

My bladder has always disagreed with me, so I stood there with my head held up high, pretending all is well albeit squirming and sticking my legs together as much as possible.

The climax of the day started to heighten when another student was sent outside. He stood on the other side of the classroom door. We didn’t speak to each other; we just looked at each other.

All classes were in session. Our silence filled the hallway. I needed some noise though, I wanted something to distract me, but alas.

What was this teacher thinking? Did she not feel guilty about us missing the lesson? Why did she let me stand outside for so long? Was I old enough to endure standing on my feet till they hurt? Why does punishment ever have to inflict pain?

The kid- whose features or name I don’t remember- stared at me and did not say a word as he watched me wet myself.

I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why I didn’t run for the bathroom. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why I cared more about the teacher than embarrassing myself. I still can’t, for the life of me, figure out why my teacher didn’t want me to go the bathroom.

I was denied a human right.

I was only an eleven or twelve year old girl in her clean, ironed school uniform, with her hair probably brushed to the back and tied with a scrunchie standing outside her classroom and missing the lesson she woke up so early to attend; standing outside her classroom and took a stance against disobedience until she ruined her lovely uniform with urine.

She had power over me, why would she show mercy? She had me right where she wanted me; standing and with a bladder about to burst. That ought to teach me a lesson or two.

This incident is one of the most humiliating things that ever happened to me.

It was very much later in life that I knew the limits of authority figures, regardless of the situation. But at the time, a teacher was a god, and that’s why when I went home I said nothing. I honestly don’t remember how I felt, but it pains to me think that I might not have been angry at my teacher. It makes my heart sink to think that my 11 year old self thought it deserved to be humiliated, or that what the teacher did was acceptable.

My mom found out sometime later during a parent-teacher meeting and she later told me that she was very furious that I didn’t tell her, she was very confused as to why. I don’t know why, but I’m sure it’s because I was never taught the difference between respect and obedience.

 Authority figures in Egypt always confuse the two.

Would I have disrespected my teacher if I had disobeyed her and went to the bathroom anyway? Does a student ever have to “obey” their teacher in the first place? Doesn’t a teacher have to show respect to the students first for them to reciprocate?

I don’t remember the teacher ever apologizing to me. After having lived here for so long, I can tell you that that’s not uncommon. Egyptian adults rarely apologize for making mistakes, especially if they have to apologize to someone younger than them.

Despite this incident being in the mid-nineties, many teachers in Egypt today still feel as “powerful” in the classroom, and they take any opportunity to exhibit their power, and discipline their students.

Early this week, a teacher beat his fifth grade student to death.

I do not think the teacher wanted to kill his student. But I am certain the teacher enjoyed feeling powerful; he enjoyed having the upper hand in the situation, and there is a very big chance he actually thought he is teaching the student a valuable lesson.

But what could the student have possibly done for his teacher to leave him unconscious and cause him brain haemorrhage? How stone hearted is this teacher to have had kept on hitting, not only a child, but a child he personally knows and have taught since September?

Physical abuse in Egyptian schools is a long-rooted practice. It is highly unlikely that this teacher hated the student to the extent of wanting to kill him, but there is a higher chance that this teacher himself was physically abused at school- and the teacher got away with it.

This teacher is now held in custody, and I don’t think he is not going to be incarcerated. But what action is the Ministry of Education going to take? Is it going to hold nation-wide teacher training of acceptable and unacceptable treatment of students? Or, in this case, legal and illegal treatment of students. Is the violent vicious circle going to be finally broken?

While this issue is deeply influenced by cultural and religious beliefs, tackling those beliefs should not be our current concern. Teachers need to undergo training of how to treat their students, and should be constantly supervised. Teachers do have to be respected, but a teacher does not have the right to discipline a student, and they certainly do not have the right to verbally or physically abuse them.

If Egypt is not providing its students with quality education for a better life in the future, it should at least provide them with teachers that would not deprive them of the chance of pursuing this life.

The case at hand is an extreme one, and I hope we won’t come across any more of them, and for that to happen the “less-extreme” cases need to be stopped.

I wish my eleven-year old self ran for the bathroom when it could.

I wish this little fifth grader tried harder to fight back and was not crippled by his fear of his teacher. May his soul rest in peace.

I wish that everything in Egypt could be governed by respect and the rule of law, and not by fear.


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Nehal Elmeligy is an English teacher and a Fulbright Alumna who likes to write on the side. She is a passionate writer who is moved by people, ideas, religion and culture but only writes when she has no escape from her muse. She does not fear laughing out loud in public or saying hi to complete strangers. She is only addicted to three things: coffee, working out, and her closest friends. http://onmymindelmeligy.blogspot.com.au/

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