Hala Talaat Teachersolidarity interviewed Hala Talaat - a young teacher in Egypt about the challenges facing her as a teacher and an activist in an independent teaching union

Hala teaches science to 12 –15 year olds. She is Vice-President of the independent union, the Egyptian Teachers Federation in Giza.

 TS:                  What would you say are the main problems facing teachers in Egypt?  HT:                  A lot of things – the school environment, the lack of education materials and facilities, the high pupil teacher ratio with up to 100 pupils in a class and the way subject teachers are supervised and told what and how to teach, so that they are more like clerks than teachers. We are not allowed to participate in designing the syllabus – even though we are of course the main people who could create a good educational programme. Another particular problem for us is the way in which the relationship between teachers and parents has been disrupted – parents almost want to take revenge on teachers, feeling they are not honest supervisors for their children and of course this is reflected by the children when they see this division.  TS:                  What has caused this breakdown?  HT:                  Teachers are paid very low wages (from $115 down to nothing at all, TS) The only way they can make their salaries into a living wage is to give private tuition lessons, which are effectively compulsory for the children – therefore parents feel that the teachers are exploiting their children in order to make money.  TS:                  I hear that there are a large number of administrators in schools as many as 1.1 for every teacher. What are these people doing?  HT:                  You have to understand that this kind of bureaucratic structure is not just in education – it is typical of institutions in Egypt. In our case what they are doing is giving a hard time to the teachers! Many are there just on paper – for teachers the way to get a better income is to become an administrator.  TS:                  Would you want to become an administrator?  HT:                  I would if the system was transparent – however it is not – it is full of corruption. I wish I could in a way because I have got so many ideas about how education in Egypt could be improved.  TS:                  So tell us about your ideas  HT:                  I would spend money on important things for the school – not painting the outside as happens at the moment. I would encourage teachers to develop creative education – art and music for example and more activity based learning. I would let the students speak their opinions and say what they think openly. At the moment we have students’ unions but the representatives are chosen by the administration. I would allow proper elections and let the students speak out as a first way of learning about democratic practice.  TS:                  In the curriculum as it now stands is there any space for critical thinking?  HT:                  No, none at all. The syllabi are not based on critical and analytical thinking, but rote learning of stuff to pass the tests. They are not linked to the environment around them. And I would like parents to be involved in the education system and contributing towards the development of the curriculum.  TS:                  Does the union campaign on these issues as well?  HT:                  Yes of course the union doesn’t only campaign on salaries, conditions, class sizes and learning materials – it also campaigns for the development of the curriculum and for linking the quality of education to resources  TS:                  How much of an influence do you think international agencies like the World Bank and the IMF have had on the education system in Egypt?  HT:                  Well they contribute money for things like painting schools and computers. But a lot of the things which have been introduced like quality control systems – teacher evaluation and so on – have been copied from the European Union and the US and they are not relevant to the Egyptian school system.  TS:                  Have things improved since the revolution?  HT:                  Nothing has been improved except that we are allowed to have independent unions and teachers have become more active in their unions – we used to have five or six active people per governorate now we have a hundred.  TS:                  Thanks very much, Hala  This interview was done through an interpreter.