Class, Gender, Work and Fun: Secondary School Student Discourses on Education and Work in Egypt

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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
Stream: Equity, Social Justice and Social Change; Community, Culture, Globalisation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Hania Sobhy

PhD Student, Department of Politics and International Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies
London, UK

Hania Sobhy is a second year PhD Candidate at the Politics and International Studies Department of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London- and previously at the University of Exeter. She completed her Bachelors in Economics and Political Science, and her Masters in Political Science, both at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She has taught politics and economics at the undergraduate level in Montreal, Cairo and Exeter and worked in education policy and research in Egypt. Her research interests include two broad areas: one relates to the political economy of development, especially on the topic of education reform; and the other relates to Political Islam and contemporary Islamist discourses. She has a number of existing and forthcoming publications in both research areas.

Ref: L09P1133