Class, Gender, Work and Fun: Secondary School Student Discourses on Education and Work in Egypt
The proposed paper draws on field interviews conducted with students and teachers in public and private schools in Cairo, Egypt, in 2008 and 2009. Preliminary findings confirm significant divisions along class and sometimes along gender lines in student perceptions of school, learning and work. For example, the discourses of middle and upper class students about their schools, learning, college and work are significantly structured around class, for example in terms of joining a college which caters to a particular social class. While many students in disadvantaged schools have thought about their career options or are already working in low-paid low-skilled jobs, many students in middle and upper class schools have not thought extensively about their career options as they are mostly focused on getting into university. The normalization of private tutoring for almost all secondary certificate students has created a situation where school, if actually attended by students, becomes an outlet for fun, play and socializing. This in turn creates tensions and dilemmas for school teachers and administrators, who are expected to uphold the older notions of discipline and schooling, but operate under considerable pressure to accommodate the changing realities and preferences of students and teachers.
State discourses on creating a skilled labor force through education notwithstanding, many public and private school students express the feeling that their schools do not equip them with the needed skills for the labor market. Key features of the system (curriculum, pedagogy and assessment) prevent many middle class students from acquiring the communication, leadership, language and computer skills they perceive as needed for the job market. On the other hand, abuse, corruption and poor learning conditions in disadvantaged schools amount to very limited skills acquisition and confine students’ career prospects to positions in the service economy that require minimal literacy and numeracy skills.
Keywords: Egypt, Secondary School, Class, Gender, Learning, Work
PhD Student, Department of Politics and International Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies