M.G.A. is an Egyptian woman pioneer of education, who pursued a career in teaching until she served as a Deputy Principal. In the interview, she shared her educational journey, and her passion for teaching, acknowledging her father’s role in her access to education.
M.G.A. was born in Desouk, in the city of Damanhur, to a middle-class family. Her father worked at the Royal Agricultural Society, and was keen on education. At that time, there was only one school for girls in Desouk, called the Directorate Council School. M.G.A. explained, “there were no schools for us, to the point that parents kept their daughters at school to repeat the same classes year after year instead of graduating, because graduating school meant staying home at such an early age. The girls were too young to stay at home.” M.G.A. attended the Directorate Council School for six years only, during which she studied all her courses in the Arabic language. However, M.G.A. expressed her desire to continue her education, and her father also wanted his daughter to have access to further education.
As a result, the School Principal established a boarding division to give M.G.A. and the other girls the opportunity to study for two more years, which qualified M.G.A. for the specialized School for Women’s Education in Tanta. She described the specialized school saying, “this was an official boarding school. It was very organized. We studied for three years, and the curriculum focused on preparing and training students to become teachers. The main objective of the school was to graduate teachers, and so we studied education and psychology, which came to be very useful to me in my life and in how I interact with people. I was so lucky to have been taught both education and psychology by Fatma Abd al-Menem Anan -the Mother of Teachers- God rest her soul. She had a huge impact on our upbringing.” M.G.A. also recalled her mathematics teacher, Samiya Sadiq, who offered students extra tutoring without charge, simply because she wanted them to succeed.
M.G.A. graduated second in her class, then moved to Cairo to study at the supplemental departments in a teachers’ school in Shubra, which she described saying, “it was a breathtaking villa, very big with wooden floors and wooden stairs. We had a plant nursery, a small fountain, a playground, and trees. Honestly, the school itself brought joy to the students.” Although M.G.A. loved mathematics, and wanted to pursue further studies in the field of mathematics, she had to specialize in education because this was the only training she received at the School for Women’s Education. She also had to choose between drawing and home economics because these were the only departments available for women teachers. Ultimately, M.G.A. chose home economics, and graduated in 1945, at the age of 19.
Due to her educational achievement, M.G.A. was offered the opportunity to work, and was appointed at the Embroidery Arts School in Tanta, upon her request. She later traveled to work for a year in al-Mahala, then in Damanhur where she resided. In 1951, she got married, and settled down with her husband in Alexandria.
M.G.A. loved her job, her students, and the courses she taught, explaining, “I loved teaching home economics. I do not want to brag but I was not just teaching. It was special. Because I loved it so much, it was more than just adding a couple of things together to produce something. You know, I worked at Nabawiyya Mousa’s school. When they took the school away from Nabawiyya Mousa, there was a new principal. She attended my class, and told me that she had never enjoyed a home economics class like that before. It was as like music, she said, like I played a symphony. I am not exaggerating.”
M.G.A. worked at several schools in Alexandria, among which was al-Shatbi Preparatory School, where she established the home economics department. When M.G.A. decided to transfer to another school closer to home, Principal Thuraya al-Atris was upset and did not want her to leave the school. M.G.A. recounted, “the Principal almost teared up. She was surprised that I put in my papers for the transfer without telling her. She kept telling me that I was the school’s safety pin. She used to tell me that all the time. At the end, I decided not to leave, then called Ms. Hanem Mostafa and apologized to her. Ms. Hanem told me that when I requested the transfer, she was sure that I would not go through with it because of how much I loved my school.” M.G.A. stayed at the school with Principal Thuraya al-Atris, and they remained close throughout their lives. M.G.A. continued teaching in Alexandria, and was named Alexandria’s Ideal Teacher.
Afterwards, she applied to work in the UAE on a secondment. M.G.A. recounted that home economics was not yet taught in the Emirati schools. She established the department of home economics, saying, “I used the flat pot lids for baking, and the tuna cans as ramekins for the crème brûlée. I did not want to be idle, I wanted to work. I had to do something. I created my own tools. I used to get the wooden fruit boxes, sand them, then paint them, and hang them as storage units. I do not want to brag. I am telling you the truth. The supervisor herself attended my classes, and my exhibitions.” M.G.A. returned to Egypt in 1979, and was immediately hired as a Deputy Principal, but she did not feel she was being herself in this position. Her passion was to teach. That was why she decided to apply for an early retirement at the age of 55.
Within her family, M.G.A. never felt discriminated against for being a woman, but recounted the discrimination she witnessed generally in society, saying that she could not deny that society generally discriminated against women, adding, “we are treated differently. Boys and girls are not treated the same. People still get ecstatic when they find out they are having a son, and hate having daughters. I did not go through this personally, thanks to my father. But the general rule was the boy had more privileges than the girl. The girl was almost in his service.”