Primary Source

British Parliamentary Papers [Official Documents]


Despite efforts to resist, by the end of the 19th century, almost all of the Middle East had fallen under the control of European powers. Whether in the form of a protectorate or colony, European powers made changes to the indigenous educational system that impacted children.

Europeans offered European-style education to a very small elite group of Middle Eastern students and this education was intended to shape the children into abiding colonial subjects by teaching them that their civilization was backwards. These government schools created under the Europeans charged tuition that most families could not afford. The majority of children were deemed unfit for modern education and colonialists circulated the idea that Middle Eastern parents did not value education.

Expansion of educational opportunities for non-elite classes was also gradual in Europe, the timeline of legislation similar to policies in lands under colonial rule or protectorates. Efforts to provide basic literacy and prepare students for specific types of career training also followed a pattern of using religious institutions as a base of expansion, adding training in reading, writing, arithmetic, and other subjects to enhance the skill set of future workers and identify talented youth for further training in specialized schools. Such children would receive scholarships or stipends to attend boarding schools organized under military-like discipline. Examples of such institutions were the Muhammad Ali's schools of engineering, military science, and medicine.

The following selection relates to education in Egypt under the British protectorate. The single most common feature of most Egyptian childhoods during the British protectorate was participation in the labor force, particularly the cotton industry on which the Egyptian economy was almost exclusively based. During the protectorate, the demand for labor of children and the acquisition of literacy were inversely related.

Many villages circulated petitions demanding the colonizers provide them with schools, but colonial administrators did not fund widespread education efforts. The British justified a lack of investment in indigenous education by saying it was not desired by parents who were too “dead” to know the value of education, as the following selection indicates. The British also attempted to pit the minority Christian Egyptian parents against Muslim Egyptian parents in their efforts to keep the Egyptian population uneducated.


House of Parliament, "Reports by Her Majesty's Agent and Consul-General on the Finances, Administration, and Condition of Egypt and the Sudan in 1899," (1900). Annotated by Heidi Morrison.

Primary Source Text

The British Parliamentary Papers of 1900 contain a chart on the proportion of Muslims and Christians in government schools in Egypt. The report following the chart reads:

"These figures would appear to show that the Mohamedan population generally are less fully alive than the Copts to the advantages of education."

How to Cite This Source

"British Parliamentary Papers [Official Documents]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #466, (accessed August 10, 2021).