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Winds of Change in Al Azhar

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Modern Curricula for Modern Times

Egyptian and foreign experts collaborated in developing the new curricula and class materials, creating up-to-date content that includes Egypt’s cultural heritage, according to Egyptian Education Minister, Tarek Shawki. In the face of great pressure from the authorities and public outcry and accusations of encouraging extremism, Al-Azhar leaders have accepted the need to change and moved towards adopting attitudes and ideas in line with modern times. Education specialist Tarek Noureddine said modern curricula are the gates to social tolerance because they teach students to base interactions on mutual respect and goodwill, rather than on exclusion because of differences in beliefs, ideologies and cultures. Among the concepts included in the educational reforms were religious tolerance, globalisation, citizenship, intercultural learning and communication and family education based on respecting society and the environment. Until recently, curricula and textbooks in Egypt contained lessons encouraging hatred and punishment by beheading or burning. As public outrage grew, those lessons were removed, but educational curricula were basically untouched. Efforts to reform educational programmes and remove religion as the foundation of all education had been met with heavy resistance by Al-Azhar scholars who saw the changes as an attempt to bring down the religious institution. n