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Algeria - Summary

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Arabization in the education system included replacing foreign instructors with Arabic teachers, replacing the Eurocentric curriculum with an Arabic/African one, and replacing French with Arabic as the medium of instruction. Not everyone was pleased with the results. "The Arabization in the schools has actually often been managed under disastrous conditions and has delivered a generation of illiterate bilinguals mastering neither Arabic nor French," say the critics.

Arabization was intended to be the vehicle for creating a national identity. Whether or not this has happened, it has created a number of problems, including linguistic generational differences. Parents, particularly middle class parents educated in French, have difficulty following their children's education and in transmitting to their children the culture and cultural information that they themselves have acquired, thereby depriving children of considerable cultural knowledge.

The most experienced administrators find it difficult to communicate to their young recruits (mostly Arabic speakers) their knowledge and their savoir-faire. The communication difficulties occurring between officials of different generations are due not only to purely linguistic differences, but also to psycho-cultural factors bound up with the linguistic differences.

Additional problems occur at training centers where the teachers are often technicians and qualified workers who most often acquired their knowledge and experience in the French language. The students, however, often have poor command of both French and Arabic.

In higher education, the government sought to ease the transition to Arabic by organizing a summer crash course for French-speaking teachers, promising adequate supplies of Arabic science manuals and a working party to establish new terminology. The decree proved impossible to enforce. Many academics did not take the crash course, much of the teaching material is still in French, and the student level of classical Arabic is often inadequate. There are difficulties for students entering sciences, and in particular, medicine, without adequate knowledge of French. Some of the best secondary students fail or quit.

Literacy rates have steadily risen since independence, reaching between 62 and 72 percent in 2000. These are "nominal" literacy rates, which undoubtedly overestimate functional literacy. Too often individuals barely achieving literacy don't retain it.

The first year for students at a university proves to be terribly overcrowded and the students, who are poorly prepared by the lycées, are left to the least competent staff because fully qualified academics do not take first-year students. Many university teachers began teaching when they were taking graduate courses and eventually became permanent staff members without completing their studies. With the mass exodus of the teachers fleeing the violence, a large part of the experienced teaching staff left just as the student numbers increased from 300,000 to 384,000. The exodus has seriously affected scientific research. The universities are further stressed by huge classes, overstressed infrastructures, inadequate and unskilled supervisors, insufficient and old equipment, and a lack of up-to-date educational and scientific materials.

Vocational education suffers from problems with the language of instruction, poor teaching, haphazard job placement (lack of systematization), lack of industrial linkages, and lack of flexibility. These problems produce graduates with inadequate skills in unwanted areas and the inability to adapt.

Algeria still has the fact-acquisition orientation to instruction. It is woven into the fabric of education. The teachers, as their teachers before them, are themselves products of the lecture-rote memorization system (both a French and Islamic heritage) thereby automatically perpetuating the system. The fact-recall examinations further reinforce this orientation. Teachers teach for the exams and until higher order skills such as critical thinking are measured, the situation will not change. Outdated methods and materials and a lack of internships means that students don't get practical hands-on experience. Knowledge is often out of date, citing 10-year-old computer programs. Students complain of insufficient class hours, as classes are often reduced because of strikes.

Funding is inadequate in every sector. Poor pay deters better students from entering teaching. Absent or obsolete equipment and materials lower instructional quality, as do overcrowded schools, classes, and education conducted in multiple shifts.

The Franco-Arabic language split impacts both vocational and collegiate education. The language skill levels of students and of instructors are factors, as is the availability of manuals and teaching materials in the language of instruction.

Since the late 1980s, every sector of Algerian society has been affected by a deep and on-going crisis of violence. This crisis has touched every aspect of life. It is the most serious problem impacting Algerian education today. The violence is a reaction to grinding poverty and blocked opportunity. It is far more a power struggle than a religious issue, and it will continue until the socioeconomic underpinnings are alleviated. The violence has damaged educational progress on every front.

Education in Algeria is clouded by the civil war. Beyond the human and physical damage is the damage caused by the restrictive direction the Islamists seek to impose. The isolationist approach, evidenced by the violent opposition to all foreign ideas and influences, operates to cripple educational progress. Until the violence and intimidation are curtailed, it is hard to foresee a bright future.

Illiteracy rates are still high, but literacy efforts appear to be working and need to be continued as a priority. There are major problems of educational quality and quantity that need to be addressed. Increased funding is part of the answer, but will not by itself cure the problems of ineffective pedagogy, language splits and fluency, lack of coherence between educational levels, and absence of linkages to the work world and to the users of the system. Rigid bureaucracy is slow to react and out of touch with the realities of the work world. Teacher training needs upgrading with models of better pedagogic techniques through in-service training, distance learning, and improved teaching materials and equipment.


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—M. June Allard and Pamela R. McKay

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