Cairo- Bonus or ordeal? Thus, the debate has been renewed for decades in Egypt about population increase, between a divine gift that successive governments should exploit in the country’s renaissance and a repeated government complaint that population increase outweighs state resistance.
At many levels, Egyptian governments are trying to curb population growth: the latest of these attempts was announced by the Ministry of Education a few days ago, by including educational materials related to reproductive health in school curricula.
Central Administration Head for Curriculum Development Akram Hassan said there is cooperation between the Ministry of Education and the United Nations Population Fund regarding the integration of reproductive health concepts into educational curricula and in educational activities for the preparatory and secondary stages.
In a press release, he underlined the Ministry of Education’s interest in including the concepts of population and reproductive health in the curricula, as they are among the important issues affecting all segments of society, adding that the schools cater to a broad segment of up to 25% of citizens.
Last week, the Ministry of Education organized a workshop, in collaboration with the United Nations Population Fund and the Juzoor Foundation, to present the final version of the framework for the concepts of population education and reproductive health.
The international definition of reproductive health includes: the ability of the individual to make the appropriate pregnancy decision when and in the way he or she wishes, and to obtain the appropriate means of family planning according to his or her choice.
Regarding the ability of educational institutions to disseminate reproductive health concepts, the professor of measurement and evaluation at the National Center for Educational Examination and Evaluation, Muhammad Fathallah, said that the school possesses the elements and influence that the enable them to be part of the methods of coping with population growth.
In his interview with Al-Jazeera Net, Fathallah indicated that social studies curricula for middle school students contain an informational aspect of population issues, but the treatment is not extensive.
He emphasized that student understanding of population concepts depends on how it is addressed, preferably through student activities and not curriculum.
Competitions, roundtables and exploratory tours have a major impact on student perception and awareness, according to science research education expert, while at the same time realizing the size of the population problem.
Fathallah expressed his fear of addressing reproductive health curriculum, as is the case with educational curricula such as National Education, which do not receive much attention from students because exam results are not counted in the total number of students.
For his part, the director of the Egyptian Center for Media Studies and Public Opinion, Mustafa Khoudary, considered that the inclusion of reproductive health topics in educational curricula is a formal step that does not have a direct impact on opinion public about fertility rates.
Speaking to Al-Jazeera Net, Khoudari added that media or educational campaigns usually do not have a direct impact on the pregnancy process, and continued, “Refocusing public opinion on this particular issue alone cannot affect the decision to have children if the regime does not press in other directions.”
While Khoudari downplayed the impact of the shift to using educational curricula to counter population growth, she felt it could argue for a delay in the age of marriage for women, which leads to a reduction in the potential period of fertility, and it also increases women’s employment opportunities and therefore reduces the number of births, since working women have fewer children. It doesn’t work, she said.
For her part, Samia Khader, a sociology professor at Ain Shams University’s Faculty of Education, said educating students about the scale of Egypt’s demographics requires multi-layered efforts.
And he explained – in press releases – the need to review school curricula, so that information on the education of the population, such as social sciences, science and the environment in the various educational stages, is added to the basic curricula.
Samia stressed the importance of training teachers in information about population and development issues and working to convince them of the impact of population increase on citizens’ lives, so that they can convince students, saying, “The changing the student’s values begins with changing the teacher’s values.”
In addition, it is necessary to evaluate the impact of information taught to students about population and development issues on students’ values and awareness of these issues, and develop curricula to maximize its benefits, according to the educational expert’s view.
Attempts are ongoing
Various ministries – each to the extent of its competence – are working to cope with the increase in population. This month, the Ministry of Health launched 26 reproductive health and family planning convoys, under the slogan “Your right to organize”, targeting 78 villages in 17 governorates, where family planning services are provided through these convoys.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity continues the activities of the “2 basta” project, launched in 2018, with the aim of raising awareness of the advantages of having only two children per family.
The Ministry is collaborating with 108 NGOs in this project, targeting 2,257 villages in the governorates. According to an official report, the number of door-to-door visits implemented by the project has reached 9.3 million, and the number of visits by women to the Ministry of Health’s family planning clinics has reached two million.
In February 2021, the Ministry of Endowments started an awareness campaign on birth control, organizing some joint seminars with the National Media Authority and the National Press Authority, and some intensive training courses.
The country’s population is about 104 million, according to the Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics, and the government aims to achieve a fertility rate of 1.6 per woman.
decades of comparison
Addressing overpopulation as a threat that consumes the fruits of development is not the result of an orientation or a decision of the current authority: since the 1960s, successive regimes have taken steps to warn against the high birth rates.
During the era of the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the government addressed the need to reduce the number of family members, which required the preparation of a charter for a family planning initiative in 1963, and then The Supreme Council for Family Planning was established in 1965.
The late President Anwar Sadat has addressed the increase in population in a way that seems more practical than changing the citizen’s thinking about the number of his children, which is the creation of new cities to accommodate the numerical density, such as Sadat’s cities and 6 October.
The era of the late President Hosni Mubarak was marked by the intensity of media awareness campaigns on the danger of population increase, as well as holding conferences on the subject, such as the first national conference of residents in 1984, and the Ministry of Health has taken the lead in providing all contraceptive methods to the citizens.
According to a report by the Center for Information and Decision Support affiliated to the Cabinet, successive population policies and strategies have failed to achieve all the quantitative targets they set for themselves.