The Teaching of Religion K-12

In the K-12 system, religious education is mandatory for all students in every grade. Out of a total weekly instructional time of 30 hours, religious education takes up three hours per week at the elementary level and two at the preparatory and secondary levels. In Azharite schools, Islamic education is more intense, reaching 24 hours a week in the 6th grade. In the third year of preparatory school religion is taught for 39 hours (Aldeeb, 2000). Approximately 90.2% of all students in Egypt are included in the public and private education sectors, 83 % and 7.2% respectively). The remaining 9.8 percent of the students attend Al-Azhar schools (Egyptian Ministry of Education, 2007).

Muslim and Christian students meet separately during religious classes; Muslim students study with a Muslim teacher using Islamic textbooks, and Christian student study with a Christian teacher using Christian textbooks. Like Muslims, Christians also have to learn the Christian religion according to centralized textbooks developed by the Ministry of Education. The board which develops the textbooks is Composed of Coptic Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant experts (Aldeeb, 2000). Islam and Christianity are taught in Egyptian schools based on official government textbooks. Parents cannot choose the religion their children are taught at school. If one of the parents is Muslim, the children are considered Muslim. The grade for religion is not included in the student’s total grade, but the student has to pass this class or will be denied promotion to the next grade level (Toronto and Eissa, 2007).

Both private and public schools teach the state approved religious curriculum. Religious instruction itself in the public school system emphasizes rote instruction and memorization. In the textbooks of 1988-89, the content allotted to Qur’an, hadith, and adab, on the other hand, increases four fold from the first through fifth grades as textbooks incorporate increasingly longer passages of the Qur’an and other Islamic texts. Likewise, as of 1989, the Egyptian general secondary examination, a requirement to attend university in Egypt, features a section on religion with the stated objective of testing memory and information accumulation and retrieval.

Within the curriculum as a whole, the teaching of Islam in Egypt is not limited to courses in religion. Islam penetrates all disciplinary boundaries, even those removed from history or language and Quranic verses and sayings of the Prophet are regularly interjected into textbooks of non-religious subjects. Science is injected both with religious and nationalist significances, and science in primary school textbooks promotes the theory of intelligent design. New technologies – in medicine, for instance – are regularly legitimized using Islamic precepts.

Pre-primary education runs from ages four through five. Primary school runs from ages six to eleven. In 2005/06 through 2007/08 preparatory students completed the preparatory cycle at the age of 13 and thus are eligible for secondary education at the age of 14. Starting 2008/09, students were eligible for secondary education at the age of 15, when they finish the complete basic education cycle of six years primary and three years preparatory schooling. Private schools maintain their own hiring standards for teachers, but public schools are required to hire only members of the national Teachers Union. Members of the Teachers Union must hold degrees in education. Both private and public schools are required to teach the state-approved religious curricula (Egyptian Ministry of Education, 2007).

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