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Only then can they begin to make a mark on the illiteracy rate, shaving off one percent for every 700,000 taught.
National campaigns have helped reduce the country’s illiteracy rate from over 40 percent in 1991 to about 26 percent today.
Despite free education and long- running literacy programmes, the number of illiterates has changed little in over two decades.
Nearly 17 million adult Egyptians can neither read nor write, according to recent government data.
“Once a girl hits a certain age, especially in countries where there’s early marriage, her chances of being pulled out of school increase,” says Diane Prouty of the Girls’ Improved Learning Outcomes (GILO), a USAID-funded project to increase girls’ access to quality education in rural Egyptian communities.
“In addition, girls spend more hours doing housework and chores than boys, so they have less time to study or sleep.” Women account for 69 percent of illiterates in Egypt.
Gholam, however, says the statistics may not accurately reflect the significant progress made by organisations and individuals working outside the state education system.
“It’s very easy to get statistics for children in schools and those in formal learning- you can follow and track them,” she says. Literacy is not only taught by the government; it is also taught by civil society, peers and family members.” Literacy campaigns are utilising informal learning, encouraging university students to instruct their peers and literate family members to teach their relatives.
Tawdros says parents are less willing to invest in their daughters than their sons because they believe that by their late teens the girls will likely “marry off and move away.” Education specialists say the pressure on girls increases significantly after puberty.Development experts prefer to see the glass half full.Ghada Gholam, an education programme specialist at UNESCO Egypt, has no illusions about the extent of the problem, but says progress in reducing Egypt’s illiteracy rate should not be overlooked.But some say the government needs to show stronger commitment to mandatory education, stiffening the punishment for parents who fail to register their children or withdraw them from school.The current penalty for taking a child out of school is a 1.80 dollar fine, though it is rarely enforced.