Saturday, March 13, 2010

EGYPT: Population Growth Overtakes Literacy Rise

By Cam McGrath

"LUXOR, Mar 12, 2010 (IPS) - Literacy programmes are teaching millions of Egyptians to read, but are struggling to keep up with the country's high population growth.

"Egypt is one of the most challenging countries for any literacy programme," a literacy programme administrator at Catholic relief agency CARITAS told IPS. "You can't afford to step off the pedal for a minute."

One in every four Egyptians is illiterate. Despite free education and long- running literacy programmes, the number of illiterates has changed little in over two decades. Nearly 17 million adult Egyptians can neither read nor write, according to recent government data....

Despite free, mandatory education for children ages 6 to 15, parents in poor communities often remove their kids from the education system to help work at home or in the fields....

"Once a girl hits a certain age, especially in countries where there's early marriage, her chances of being pulled out of school increase," says Diane Prouty of the Girls' Improved Learning Outcomes (GILO), a USAID-funded project to increase girls' access to quality education in rural Egyptian communities. "In addition, girls spend more hours doing housework and chores than boys, so they have less time to study or sleep." Women account for 69 percent of illiterates in Egypt.....

Literacy campaigns are utilising informal learning, encouraging university students to instruct their peers and literate family members to teach their relatives. But some say the government needs to show stronger commitment to mandatory education, stiffening the punishment for parents who fail to register their children or withdraw them from school. The current penalty for taking a child out of school is a 1.80 dollar fine, though it is rarely enforced.

"We must break the cycle of illiteracy that starts with parents deciding not to educate their children," says Heba Youssef, a primary schoolteacher. "Children who grow up illiterate are less likely to improve their economic situation than those who can read and write. And they are less likely to educate their own children." "

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