People and Society, Education
Al-Azhar mosque, intermediate education, Al-Azhar University, oldest university, Cairo University
Historically, religious authorities provided basic education in local mosque schools. Higher Islamic studies became available at Al-Azhar mosque (founded in 970) in Cairo. In 988 Al-Azhar University was established. This is the oldest university in the world and the leading institution of Islamic higher education in the world today. Al-Azhar University operates a network of religious schools parallel to the state system.
In the first half of the 19th century Egyptian viceroy Muhammad Ali established state-run professional, technical, and foreign-language schools for boys. A network of state-run schools for boys was established in 1867. The first state school for girls opened in 1873. Since 1923, primary and intermediate education has been free, and it is now compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 14. Public secondary and university education is also free but is not compulsory.
Cairo University, established in 1908, is Egypt’s leading institution of higher education. There are 12 other state-run public universities, including Ayn Shams University (founded in 1950), located in Cairo; the University of Alexandria (1942); and the University of Asyut (1957). Al-Azhar University, renowned as an institution of higher religious studies, also offers programs in engineering, medicine, business administration, and agriculture; women have been admitted since 1962. The American University in Cairo (1919) is the only private and fee-charging institution of higher education. The Institutes of Dramatic Arts, Cinema, and Ballet, run by the ministry of culture, offer higher education in the fine arts.
Rapid population growth has severely overburdened Egypt’s educational system. Classrooms from the primary school level to the university level are overcrowded, and schools lack many resources—such as up-to-date science laboratories, audio-visual aids, and even sufficient numbers of desks and textbooks—necessary for an adequate education. Although primary school enrollment is officially 100 percent, many children attend school irregularly or not at all because they must work to help support themselves and their families. In 2001, 70.7 percent of the adult population was literate: 77.2 percent of males and 63.8 percent of females.
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