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EGYPT: Exams and suicide

Egypt_classroom The school exam season in Egypt has turned to scenes of suicide and privilege.

Worried that he bombed his math final, 16-year-old Hassan Mohamed Youssry recently hanged himself in Cairo. Mirhan Hany Salem, 18, jumped from a sixth-floor balcony in Port Said the morning she was to take her mechanics exam. Both students were poor, and their families claim the stress of exams overwhelmed them amid accusations that wealthy parents were buying leaked copies of tests to help their children cheat.

“He was a wreck the past few days,” Youssry’s mother told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “He told me that proctors at the exam hall told them that the exam was leaked [to students in the Menya region] because ‘they are rich people but you are poor.’ ”

The Egyptian Ministry of Education has denied that students in Menya were given an edge, but those accusations are circulating on a high school Internet forum. Corruption has long been a part of university placement exams, and the publicity around the Menya case and the suicides has further damaged the system's reputation.

“Why are they doing this to us?” reads a student's post from the Internet forum quoted by Daily News Egypt. “We study all year round and at the end we can’t answer any of the questions, while other people whose parents are important get the exam questions beforehand. They don’t even need the good grades to get into university because their parents will pay their way through it too.”

Exams have become a torment to students in a country where schools are under-funded. And many teachers, who earn as little as $40 a month, spend less energy in classrooms than they do making extra money tutoring in the evenings. Rich and poor families are forced to pay for tutoring or risk the likelihood their children will score low on the exams, known as Thanaweya Amma.

--Jeffrey Fleishman in Cairo

Photo: Egyptian classroom. Credit: www.unv.org

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