Will Arabizing education strengthen Egyptian identity?
Egyptian identity is, apparently, one of the many challenges facing the state. Why is a nation that is so proud of its ancient civilization currently facing a national identity crisis? The Egyptian minister of education, who recently announced that his assigned duty is to reconstruct the Egyptian character, believes that the perfect solution to this identity issue lies in making Arabic the dominant language of instruction in our schools.
The minister believes that framing our schoolchildren with Arabic language curricula will enhance the required national identity. Thus, he wants to offer English as a foreign language in primary schools, while teaching all remaining subjects in Arabic — in order to enhance our schoolchildren’s “Egyptian identity” and reinforce their sense of belonging to their country. Regardless of whether these school subjects are better taught in Arabic or in English (a matter that is currently being debated by many educational pundits), the Arabization policy won’t help, as such, to develop our national identity.
Like all nations, Egypt is confronting a combination of cultural challenges that are affecting our society. Nevertheless, during the past few years, the Egyptian state has been terrified by its belief that Western nations are deliberately exporting their values to Egypt. However, the fact is that universal barriers have been broken down by the innovation of the Internet, meaning social media plays an essential role in changing the rules of the game. Our youths are the ones who are eager to learn about other nations’ values; they are not being imposed on us.
Foreign languages, particularly English, are well established as an international method of communication. It is no longer an option to limit foreign language learning to the few and not make it available it to the majority. Knowledge of a foreign language has become an essential communication tool that can help millions of Egyptians to easily acquire better jobs and, subsequently, better lives. The foreign investors and international tourists that our government desperately needs seek Egyptian citizens who have a good command of foreign languages.
What the Egyptian state needs to address is the widening gap between itself and our youth. The proposed education methodology that the state is advocating has nothing to do with our cultural identity challenge.
Furthermore, to excel in any given scientific field, Egyptian scholars need to be able to regularly and comprehensively keep up with the latest publications in those fields, which are taught in a foreign language. Reading these materials in their original language is an advantage that only serious scholars will understand. We can insist on maintaining our native language as the premier language of study when Egyptian research becomes noteworthy enough to be needed by the entire world, which would then be obliged to learn our language so as to understand our latest inventions.
The minister of education complains that our youth speak English on their social outings. Constricting the study of the English language in primary schools will eventually lead to a society that is ignorant in foreign languages and to a potential deterioration of Egyptians’ capacity to comprehend other disciplines. Such a policy won’t make our children proud of their Egyptian identity. Moreover, we can easily enhance our youth’s attachment to our country while they are fluent in many languages.
Education is one of many factors that work on strengthening the identity bond between Egyptian youths and their country. Young people who seek to adopt the values of Western nations do so due to a combination of factors; they are attracted by these nations’ ruling mechanism, their modernity, their moral values and plenty of other attributes that are currently lacking in Egypt. Language is the tool that helps our youth to reach out to other cultures with the aim of better understanding their perspectives and conveying ours to them. Destroying this bridge will only increase our society’s isolation and ignorance.
Strengthening citizens’ national identity is not the concern of the Egyptian state alone; it is a universal natural evolution. Numerous other nations are encountering the same challenge, but they address it better, using today’s tools. Our young people are adopting other nations’ values because they admire those values more than ours. What the Egyptian state needs to address is the widening gap between itself and our youth. The proposed education methodology that the state is advocating has nothing to do with our cultural identity challenge.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.