Egypt has made significant progress towards achieving Education for All and the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in expanding access to basic education and closing the gap between boys’ and girls’ enrollment. For the school year 2014/15, the net enrollment rate was 91 per cent in primary education, and 84 per cent in preparatory school*. Despite this overall progress, socio-economic, geographical and gender disparities continue to limit access to primary education. The net enrollment rate for secondary education is limited to 60 per cent. According to a study conducted by UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, 3 per cent or 320,000 children at primary school age never enrolled for school or dropped out of school**. Most of them are from poor families who live in remote rural communities. Causes of children being out of school are rooted in both demand and supply sides including (i) poverty, (ii) perceived low relevance of education, (iii) commute problems: schools are located far from where the socially excluded children live, (iv) social and behavioral influences mainly affecting girls, and (v) limited Egyptian public spending on education, which is considerably low compared to the needs ***. Moreover, the UN estimates that about 2 million children live with disabilities in Egypt. The limited capacity of special education schools has resulted in the exclusion of the majority of school-age children with special needs from access to education. According to the Ministry of Education, less than 1.8 per cent of them receive the education services they need. Many schools also have poor infrastructure with around 1 out of 5 school buildings is unfit for use and lacks functional water and sanitation facilities.

Preschools prepare children physically, socially and cognitively for the rest of their education. In Egypt, the pre-school system is underdeveloped and preschools are mostly in urban areas. Around 28 per cent of children aged 4 to 5 years are enrolled in preschools, which is far from the 80 per cent national enrolment goal by 2030. On top of school readiness, children in Egypt, especially in their early years, are not achieving their developmental potential because of multiple adversities marked by poor health, the lack of adequate nutrition, stimulating, nurturing and safe environments.

With regard to the influx of Syrian refugees, the Government has granted them full access to public education. However, the capacity to absorb Syrian students is a huge challenge for the already overstretched system. Furthermore, the number of non-Syrian refugee children is increasing.

The quality of education remains a major challenge as well, preventing children from developing to their full potential and contributing to low completion rates. Teaching styles are rigid, pupil participation is not encouraged and corporal punishment is often used. According to the international knowledge assessment test, 53 per cent of grade 8 primary school students do not have basic mathematical knowledge and 45 per cent do not recognise some basic facts from life and physical sciences****. Until 2012, less than 10 per cent of schools met national standards for quality education*****. Egypt was ranked 116 of 140 countries included in the 2015-2016 Global Competitiveness Report, published by the World Economic Forum for the quality of its primary education, falling behind many Arab, African, Asian and Western nations.

* Ministry of Education, Statistical Yearbook 2014-2015
** UNICEF and Ministry of Education (2015), ‘Study on out-of-school children in Egypt
*** UNICEF (2015) Egypt. Country Report on Out-of-School Children, Middle East and North Africa Out-of-School Children Initiative

**** The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 2007

***** National Authority for Quality Assurance and Accreditation, list of accredited schools in Egypt (2013).