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Neither the summer vacation season nor the festive Ramadan atmosphere in Egypt could distract Ali Massad from his biggest concern: private tutoring for his children.
Like millions of other Egyptians, Massad relies on private tutoring to compensate for what his children miss during the academic year, a choice he said stretches the family's budget.
Massad said his three children are in preparatory and secondary schools, and he and his wife are unable to help the children with their new curricula, which he said schools do not adequately teach.
"What's striking is that the majority of public school teachers take advantage of the situation and provide tutoring services in all subjects, at rates ranging from 10-50 pounds ($2-$8) per session," he said.
"Teachers insist that students take these subjects in order to pass the school examinations, but the majority of them do not teach the minimum requirements to high school upperclassmen," he said. "Students then have to go to them for private tutoring during the final review period, when tutoring rates skyrocket, sometimes reaching double the normal rate," he said.
Misbah Khair al-Din of the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics said the average Egyptian family spent 3,700 pounds ($610) on private tutoring in the 2010-2011 academic year, an increase of 175% over the previous year's average of 1,350 pounds ($222).
This amount represents 45% of the family's spending on education, he said.
An estimated 65% of Egyptian students receive private tutoring and participate in study groups, Khair al-Din said.
"Many studies and recommendations emphasised the need for reforming education, which is supposed to be free, by regulating the schools, which lack basic scholastic activities, modifying curricula and keeping pace with modern educational methods," he said.
Rashad Abdel-Sater, a science teacher at a public school, said he and many other teachers offer private tutoring and booster study groups.
"The blame does not fall solely on the teachers or the lack of discipline in schools, but also on the students' families for their lack of daily supervision and discipline at home, to the point where the student comes to school as if he is going to a picnic," he said. "Addressing the private tutoring phenomenon begins at home."
Abdel-Sater said some teachers take advantage of the situation.
"Unfortunately, some teachers take advantage of this situation and do not cover the minimum education requirements in the schools, forcing the students to rely on tutoring as the key to success," he said. "This has a negative impact on students, whose parents cannot afford to continually pay for lessons, and the academic year passes while the student does not acquire the minimum education requirements."
Abel-Sater said some students need booster lessons in science, or daily reinforcement.
"If the student is being tutored in every single subject, then his case is symptomatic of a [bigger] problem and requires an urgent remedy," he said.
Teachers are often forced to tutor students because their salaries are low, he said.
"The teacher who earns a salary of 1,000 pounds ($165) at the most, heads a family and has other necessary expenses cannot work in any other field. He is forced to tutor and hold study groups," he said.
Abdel-Sater said he leads three study groups, each with 10 students who meet three days a week. He earns 20 pounds ($3) per student for each 90-minute session and gets paid the day of the session. This equates to 7,200 pounds ($1,187) a month, seven times his salary as a teacher.