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The terrifying realities in Egypt’s public schools

School-related deaths and injuries in Egypt are unfortunately nothing new and occur all too frequently.

That administrators and government officials are not being held to account is also unfortunately not new. An alarming series of school-related deaths and injuries at the start of this academic year has brought the grim state of Egypt’s public schooling back into focus. Administrative negligence, unenforced building codes, brutal disciplinary measures and negligible accountability are at the heart of this tragic cycle.

Furthermore, a recent report by the Central Auditing Agency (CAA) showed a serious case of financial corruption inside the Ministry of Education, adding fuel to the fire.

In a statement, published in various press reports, CAA said that the Education Minister’s Secretariat Office spent over LE222,000 on food over a period of 195 days, with an estimated LE1,140 spent daily.

Education Ministry Spokesperson Hany Kamal said in a telephone interview on Tahrir television channel that the ministry had not received any notifications from CAA about the expenditures, although he added that the issue was raised three months ago.

“We welcome any kind of investigation into the issue, we won’t cover up any corruption inside the ministry,” he said.

The report was presented to administrative prosecution for investigation, as the money was spent in violation of laws regulating civil servants.

Civil servants’ allowances should not legally exceed 40 percent of their basic salary, unless an exception is granted by the prime minister. The report revealed that, in this case, the expenditures exceeded the limit imposed by the law and were spent without the consent of the Prime Minister.

The Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions (EFACC) said in a strongly worded statement on Wednesday, that the government is paying no attention to the violations and negligence in Egyptian schools, while corruption is mounting inside the Education Ministry. They further demanded that Education Minister Mahmoud Abul Nasr resign.

Last month, the Egyptian Coalition for Children Rights (ECCR, which falls under the umbrella EFACC) released horrific numbers on the cases of violations and administrative negligence since the start of the school term in September.

ECCR cited 265 cases of abuses against children, mostly in elementary schools, this term alone. These violations included nightmarish cases of killings, torture and sexual abuse, as well as food poisoning and injuries.

The report cited six assault cases resulting in death, 41 other cases of assault, ten cases of sexual abuse, and 208 cases of food poisoning related to school meals.

Following a flurry of media reports on the subject last month, Abul Nasr faced mounting pressure to resign, but Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb dismissed the calls.

In a telephone interview with the privately owned Orbit channel, Mehleb said, “I called Abul Nasr, and his morale was so low, that I didn’t want to be harsh on him. He was so affected by these incidents.”

Wall-to-wall dilapidation

One of the first reported incidents this school year concerned Youssef, a seven-year-old elementary school pupil in the coastal city of Marsa Matrouh. A large metal gate fell on Youssef during his sports hour in the playground. Attempts to save him failed miserably, as the closest hospital is 15 kilometers away.

A panel of glass ended the life of another Youssef, a nine-year-old student, this time in the local area of Matareya, located in eastern Cairo. Youssef’s classmates at Ammar Ibn Yassir Elementary School watched him bleed to death after he sustained a critical neck wound from the falling panel.

Roujan, a 14-year-old school student, lost her left eye this year after a fragment of a broken glass window injured it while she was sitting in class in Agouza. An unnamed friend of hers claimed that the school administration subsequently fixed all broken windows to evade responsibility.

Glass-related injuries and deaths seem to be particularly common. Last year, pupil Mohamed Maher sustained a wound to his arm after a panel of glass fell on him. In 2011, Abdallah Soliman, 11, was severely injured when a shard of glass fell in his eye . School administration attempted to deny that Soliman ever went to school that day.

Last March, Hisham Fathy, 12, died at school in Minya after he fell into a 25 meter-deep sewage cesspool in the middle of the school’s playground, while Mohammed Salah faced the same fate in October 2013 at his school in Assiut.

Deadly disciplinary measures

The ECCR report also includes horrifying accounts of teacher-inflicted corporal punishment, which has affected even kindergarten students. A five-year-old child in Badrasheen, Giza, was severely beaten by his teacher with a stick in November. The boy lost his left eye as a result.

In another school in Gharbeya, a teacher tortured one of his students by beating him with a hose, also in November. But the teacher, feeling the beating did not suffice, decided to sear the ten-year old boy’s tongue with a heated spoon. When his family filed a complaint, the pupil’s sister, enrolled at the same school, was targeted by other teachers, ECCR said.

In the northern governorate of Beheira, a seven-year-old student in November sustained a severe wound to the head after his teacher hit him with a small pistol used for gluing wax. One school worker testified to ECCR that the pupil’s injury was the result of a “beating party” by the teacher against the child for not doing his homework.

In 2008, Islam Amr paid with his life after failing to submit his homework in an Alexandria classroom. The boy’s teacher decided to beat him severely in the stomach, in order to “discipline” him. The pupil was transferred to hospital with brain and heart failure.

Flagrant negligence

In 2012, Fares, 13, felt that something was biting him inside his classroom in Minya. Out of fear of his teacher, he resisted a scream of pain, before he told her that he felt something biting him. After pleading to the teacher for help, he saw a scorpion falling from his trousers. Only then did his teacher allow him to go to the schoolmaster.

After transferring him to hospital, Fares told his uncle that he went around the school crying as he searched for the schoolmaster. It was only then that another teacher found him and sent him to hospital. But time was not in his favor, he died as soon as he arrived.

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Mai Shams El-Din