Egypt has an extensive education system that outstrips all others in the Middle East and North Africa, and where even tertiary education is free. The compulsory primary education program follows kindergarten at age 4. Primary school that begins at age six takes 6 years and preparatory school another 3. During this introductory phase pupils may enrol at state, religious or private schools by choice.
Three years of preparatory schooling follow at the end of which a basic education completion certificate is awarded. During this time a student’s aptitude is examined in order to determine their best secondary education route.
There are three streams in secondary education, namely general (3 years), technical (as long a 5 years) and vocational. Technical secondary schools are organized around industrial, commercial or agricultural themes. Both technical and general schooling are conduits to tertiary education.
Initial vocational education is provided at separate schools following which students may move to vocational centres or enter the job market immediately. Vocational training is a top government priority since business identifies a lack of skills as the main impediment to entering new markets.
Egypt has a well-developed and extensive tertiary education system with 30% of Egyptians availing themselves of this opportunity. There are 17 public universities, 16 private universities, 89 private higher education institutions and 51 public non-university facilities. The tension between academic freedom and the responsibility of government to manage education is not yet fully resolved.
Al-Azhar University was established in AD 970 as a center for arabic literature and sunni learning in which capacity it continues to this day. It could be considered to be the oldest university in the world, were it not for the fact that it evolved in a different way from the medieval doctorate model used in Europe.