Egypt & Japan: A Historical Bridge for Education


Whenever education history in Egypt is researched, there will be a common story to compare the Japanese educational progress opposite the Egyptian educational failure. This comparison is not only done by Egyptian researchers, but it is practiced in Japan, as well. The lectures given by Professor Masanori Kaji, from Tokyo Institute of Technology, introduced the history of modern science in Japan, which was introduced after the Meiji restoration in 1868. Even though the introduction of western science had already started long before the Meiji era, it was pursued only through private initiatives and its progress was rather slow.

Japan started its full-fledged modernization after 1868, by this time Egypt was already having faculties for modern science, and well-familiar with modern technology and new inventions. When it was required to write a paper, Noha Mostafa, assistant lecturer and Ph.D. student, Department of Industrial Engineering and Systems Management, Egypt-Japan University for Science and Technology (E-JUST), Alexandria, decided to select the age of Muhammad Ali, who is considered to be the founder of modern Egypt. The paper focuses on the introduction of modernization in Egypt and Japan, and why Japan surpassed Egypt although it was a relatively latecomer in the modernization process.

First Egyptian Missions to Europe

 Muhammad Ali sent Egyptian students to Europe to study and acquire the modern knowledge in different fields of science and arts. The early missions were devoted to study military science and ship building. After that, larger missions were sent to many European countries, especially France and Great Britain (GB), to study broad fields of science and arts. The largest and most significant mission was the mission to France in 1826. The total number of missions was nine missions that included 309 students. The students who came back from Europe led a huge movement in the reform of the country. A large number of books were translated in all the fields of science and arts in his era.

Accordingly, new schools (faculties) were established to serve the public, as table (1) shows. Unlike his grandfather, Ismail was a delicate man; he studied in Europe and got a strong sense about human rights and democratic systems.  His philosophy can be glimpsed in a statement that he made in 1879: “My country is no longer in Africa; we are now part of Europe. It is therefore natural for us to abandon our former ways and to adopt a new system adapted to our social conditions”.

In the similar period in Japan, through the Edo period (also known as the Tokugawa period) from 1603 to 1867, Japan was isolated from the rest of the world; there were restrictions on international trade, migration, and information exchange.

The Japanese Transition

This was mainly due to two reasons; the fear of colonial avidity and the fear of the Christian missions that usually accompanied trade missions. Nevertheless, there was the so-called “Dutch Learning” (learning of western civilization through Dutch who focused only on trade) from the end of 18th century, only a limited number of people got access to European science and technology. Ties between Japan and the Western world were very limited till the 1850s.

Many historians describe the Meiji restoration as a plenary revolution; though it kept the Emperor on the throne but it triggered huge effects in all fields and was a transitional point towards the establishment of a modernized country in Japan.

The seclusion imposed by the Tokugawa regime was ended; the new rulers believed that Japan can be no more isolated from the Western world. The Iwakura mission (1871–1873) had a significant impact on the modernization of Japan; fifty high officials and about sixty students were sent to the Western countries where they observed the best practices from the West, made valuable diplomatic relationships, and presented a bright image of Japan as the most civilized Asian country. When the members of the mission returned to Japan, their ideas contributed greatly to the new reforms.

Egypt started establishing Western style schools and introducing modern science during the reign of Muhammad Ali Pasha and his successors during the first half of the 19th century. For example, in the period between 1816 and 1839, twelve higher educational schools were established. Also, during this period (1809–1847), more than 300 students were sent to Europe to study modern science and arts. By the 1860s Egypt had railways, an opera house, organized post and telegraph services, and other modern schools and governmental facilities. In the same period, Japan was still an isolated country. For example, the first imperial university in Tokyo was founded in 1886, and the first school of Engineering was founded in 1871, that was 55 years after the foundation of the first school of engineering in Egypt. In addition Egypt was historically much more open to the world than Japan which was secluded till the 1850s.

Samurai Mission in Cairo

In 1862, Japan decided to send the “Samurai Mission” to France via Egypt, to find out the reasons for its rise and progress to benefit Japan from the various experiences that the countries abroad have undergone to promote and advance. There is an image of this mission before the Pyramids and Sphynx of Giza. The mission took off in the port of Suez, and its members boarded the train from Suez to Cairo where they spent three nights visiting several places such as the Citadel, Mohammed Ali Mosque and the pyramids. From Cairo they also took the train to Alexandria, to continue their journey to Europe, which began in France. On the way back, they passed through the same road, where work on the Suez Canal was not over yet. Members of the mission were surprised when they found trains and railways in Egypt, while Japan had not yet known the trains. They were also impressed by the unrivaled cleanliness of the public baths in Cairo, where they noted that they were cleaner than the public baths in Japan, although they were surprised that the bathrooms of Cairo were more expensive than the Tokyo baths at the time, which they considered an indicator of the economic prosperity that Egypt was experiencing

However, nowadays Japan is one of the most developed countries in the world, while Egypt is still a developing country that suffers from many problems. The second half of the 19th century witnessed the spread of the industrial revolution from Britain to many countries; it was, also, a time for important advances in science and industries, such as chemical, electrical and mechanical industries, for Egypt, the developments started to fade out after the death of Muhammad Ali in 1849. The weakness of most of his successors, the increasing debts that Egypt got involved in, and the British occupation in 1882 are some of factors that had a negative effect on the development and modernization of Egypt.

For the Egyptians, although their conditions were not satisfying due to poverty, injustice and lack of public rights, they thought that their lives were much better than they were under the rule of the Mameluks, the military caste in medieval Egypt. They made use of the agricultural developments, and those who received education were able to have good jobs and better lives. During the reign of Muhammad Ali and his successors, there were no serious protests from the people. Hence, the public rights movement in Egypt was slow for a very long time; it was not really effective till the second decade of the twentieth century, while Japan did not face such difficulties during its modernization and reforms after the Meiji restoration in 1868.

Egypt-Japan Education Partnership

Moving the time machine 150 years forward, on the occasion of the official visit to Japan by Mr. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, in February 2016, Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan and El-Sisi, announced their joint partnership on education: Egypt-Japan Education Partnership “EJEP”. This partnership has been realized based on the strong interest and commitment of the two leaders, who place a high priority on the cooperation in the area of education including early childhood, basic, technical and higher education, as well as scientific research, technology and innovation.

Basic education is 9 years; 6 for primary, and 3 for elementary schools. Secondary schools have 3 years to entitle students for universities. JICA is supporting the improvement of the quality of Early Childhood Education through the dissemination of important concepts such as “Learning through Playing” that aims at fostering independence, cooperativeness, sociability and discipline among the children, which will in return promote the healthy upbringing of the Egyptian children. For Basic Education, JICA is supporting the inauguration of the Egypt-Japan Schools (EJS) that applies the Japanese concept of Whole Child Development through special activities, known as “Tokkatsu”, with the aim of contributing to the development of the social, emotional, physical and academic skills of the Egyptian students to become responsible and productive members of the society.

For Egypt’s technical schools, where graduates are faced with a low rate and mismatch of employment, in collaboration with Japanese companies in Egypt, JICA is supporting the development of competent graduates. JICA is doing that through: introducing guidelines targeting both soft skills and practical skills on both the school management level and the teacher level; and supporting the establishment of work transition units in the pilot schools – all in order to contribute to the improvement of the discipline, productivity, and team work of the students and their transition to the labor market.

JICA supports developing the human resources of the Egyptian youth through increasing the number of Egyptians dispatched to Japan for scholarships, joint research and training programs to reach at least 2,500 during a period of five-years together with other programs, in order to transfer the Japanese knowledge and know-how in various fields to contribute to Egypt’s economic and social development on the long term. The programs under this project have been designed to respond to the country’s needs and in line with its development plans that aim towards gaining and enhancing the Egyptian expertise in diversity of crucial and important areas among which are; the health and education sectors as well as different fields of sciences and technology.

This week, the Ministry of Education announced that the first missions of those responsible for the educational process in Egyptian Japanese schools arrived in the Japanese capital of Tokyo. The ministry said in a statement on 6 Feb. 2019 that the mission consists of 21 principals, school agents and 21 teachers from 35 schools representing 21 provinces and is scheduled to spend four weeks studying school administration, Takatsu activities and kindergartens at Fukui University of Technology in Japan. It has 680 Egyptian trainees from the educational process in Egyptian schools over 3 years.

The Egyptian-Japanese schools seek to apply the Japanese model of educational activities, referring to Tokkatsu; the concept of comprehensive development of children in all aspects, which focuses on building the child’s personality, behaviors, skills, values and attitudes to the same degree of development of knowledge, knowledge and mental skills.

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