EIPR: Educational Curricula Reflect Hyper-Nationalism and Lack Respect for Diversity

Press Release

12 August 2014

A study analyzing history and national instruction curricula.

The Ministry of Education has recently announced a change in the curricula of at least 30 text books according to news reports. The changes included textbooks of history and national instruction, and reportedly involved the inclusion of the state’s narrative of the political changes since 2011.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights urges the Ministry of Education to consider Egypt’s international obligations in regards to the right to education while making these changes.

For decades, school curricula have promoted a nationalist discourse employing a simplistic narrative to create a constructed, homogenizing “Egyptian character” through a rigid process that does not support broad changes. This narrative does not accommodate dissent and only tolerates minorities in as much as they support the post 1952 arrangements according to a study released by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. 

The study, released under the title of “Nationalism and Homogeneity in Contemporary Curricula”, examines History and National Instruction text books for the academic years of 2012/2013 and 2013/2014. The study, which focuses on curricula intended for the third year of preparatory school and the third year of high school, aims at ascertaining the extent to which the content of those text books meet the standards prescribed in the international mechanisms guiding the right to education and promoting the principles of respect of diversity and tolerance.

In specific, the study looked at the process and steps followed by the Ministry of Education that eventually lead to the publication and distribution of such texts. The study concludes that this process is inflexible and not susceptible to recurring alterations thus resulting in infrequent changes to curriculum crafting from year to year.

In terms of the content of the history textbooks, the study found that no significant changes had taken place with regards to the general narrative on modern Egyptian history. Claims that curricula had been significantly altered during the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood were found to be exaggerated. In fact, the history textbooks used during the late Mubarak era, are almost identical to those used in the academic years 2012/2013 and 2013/2014.

The history textbooks continued to promote hegemonic nationalist discourse, similar to the one found in textbooks dating back to the late Mubarak era.

The narrative intended for both school years is simplistic and superficial. Most importantly, the study found that the histories of minority groups whether they be ethnic, religious or national are non-existent. The participation of groups including women, workers and others is silenced except when their actions appear within the framework of the ’collective’.

 Furthermore, contemporary history textbooks focus solely on Egyptian history especially in the modern period and exclude regional and international histories creating the illusion of an exceptionalist Egypt detached from international developments. The exclusion of the ‘other’ from the history curriculum is worrying insofar as it represents a failure to promote tolerance and respect for minorities and other cultures which is part and parcel of Egypt’s international obligations with regards to the right to education.

As such, the textbooks fail to create the necessary balance prescribed in international law on the right to education between the promotion of nationalism on the one hand, and the promotion of tolerance, openness and inclusion on the other.

 The study also analyzed the national instruction curricula for the same academic years and found that these had not undergone any major changes. The curricula continued to promote broad concepts such as democracy and human rights but only within a narrow cultural and nationalist context. Most problematic were the factual inaccuracies found in these texts, which render the entire document questionable.

The study briefly looked at the new curricula titled “Citizenship and Human Rights” which should be considered a step forward towards meeting Egypt’s international obligations. It also contrasted the actual texts with the Ministry of Education’s plans for the designated academic years and found that there was a gap between the plans and the reality.

Recommendations on the ways to reform history and national instruction curricula on all school levels include the introduction of primary sources, the need to erase simplification, and the promotion and emphasis on Egypt’s rich cultural, linguistic, ethnic, regional and religious histories. Reforms to the curricula must also include a revision of inaccuracies, a focus on institutions rather than ideology and a critical engagement with the traditional nationalist discourse, the study concludes.

To read full study: Click here