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Egyptian students protest after technical problems ruin school exams

Teenagers met with violence by security forces as they decry 'failed education system', following failure of tablets, WiFi and much more
Police officers assaulting secondary school students on Tuesday 21 May 2019 as they protested what they called 'a failed' exam system (Twitter)

Egyptian secondary school students have staged nationwide protests over technical issues during end-of-year exams that started on Sunday - only to be met with violence by security forces.

Despite an ongoing national protest ban, thousands of students aged 15 and 16 took part in demonstrations and marches in many cities to demand the resignation of Education Minister Tarek Shawki and calling for reforms.

Footage shared on social media on Tuesday showed students chanting “down with the minister”, “he should leave, we will not leave” and “we are the wronged students”.

A number of protests were violently dispersed by security officers, and the arrests of several students were caught on camera.

One video showed a security officer subduing a female student in front of the education ministry in the capital.

Another video showed a security official threatening students with arrest and saying they would be treated like “terror suspects”.  

In response to the viral videos, Interior Minister Mahmoud Tawfik issued a statement on Wednesday vowing to investigate the incidents and punish the officers involved in assaulting students.

A new technological system gone awry

The problem started on Sunday, when students across the country were set to begin the exam period with a new technological system involving tablet computers.

Shawki, the education minister, introduced the electronic system last year mainly to prevent exam leaks - a regular occurrence in the past few years. 

The internet-based system requires students to use a unique user name and password, as well as an exam code.

Egypt's Ministry of Education had conducted a pilot exam in March to fix any faults in the system - but nearly 600,000 pupils on Sunday had to take the Arabic language exam using pens and paper because of technical faults in the tablet system.

In many cases, schools reported WiFi problems, a frozen system, and power outages during exams.

The ministry has allowed schools to switch to a paper-based exam once they encounter such problems - but the process has been stressful for students, who took to the streets on Tuesday to demand the suspension of the system until the ministry is able to ensure its feasibility.

edu minister
Egypt's education minister Tarek Shawki (Facebook)

In a parliamentary session earlier this month, Shawki blamed the country's low education budget.

“No one thought, before putting the blame on us, to look for the source of the problem,” he told the parliament’s budget committee. “I signed the cheques when the tablets and the money were not yet there… we sign the cheques without having the money in our pockets, but that will not work.”

He added that the finance ministry has allocated only $5.85bn to education this year, $2.3bn short of his requirements.