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Algeria’s Latest Step Toward English in Education Poses Logistical Challenges

In Algeria’s latest step toward English as the preferred second language in Algerian education, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has announced that the country’s schoolchildren will start learning English in primary school, beginning this fall.

“French is a spoil of war … while English is the language of research and science, and it must be taught and given more attention,” President Tebboune said at a news conference on July 30.

The decision means that about nine million Algerian schoolchildren in various grades will be learning English as of September.

“French is a spoil of war … while English is the language of research and science, and it must be taught and given more attention.”

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune

The president’s decree comes after decades of embracing French and years of controversy over the fate of the French language in Algerian education. Algeria’s Constitution recognizes Arabic and Tamazight, the language of the Amazigh people, as the country’s official languages. French, though widely used, has no official status.

In recent years, Algeria has been introducing English as a subject in intermediate schools, with instruction intensifying in high schools before students move on to university. Some Algerian universities and higher institutes already use English instead of French or Arabic as the language of instruction.

The exact position of French in future educational curricula has not yet been decided.

Thousands of Teachers Needed

Abdelmoumen Salami, from the Bureau of Exams and Competitions at Algeria’s Ministry of National Education, told Al-Fanar Media that 11 million students at various grades, 425,000 for the first time, would attend school in September.

English lessons will not be offered in the earliest primary grades, Salami said, but about nine million pupils over all will be studying the language at some level.

He added that the authorities were still consulting experts, teachers, and subject inspectors at the national level before making the change. The country’s 19,500 primary schools need more than 25,000 English teachers, he said.

“We all know that the education sector is the first employer in Algeria. All disciplines, apart from English, are saturated. English will be taught at primary schools this year, so I chose to study it at university.”

Fouad Rajeh A recent high school graduate

Othman Hamna, director of education of Sétif province, in eastern Algeria, told Al-Fanar Media that education directorates in 58 Algerian states had started receiving applications for English teaching jobs at primary schools on August 2.

The recent decisions appear to have influenced some recent high school graduates to put English at the top of the list of majors they want to study at university.

Bahia Kars, a guidance counselor at Abderrahmane Mira University of Bejaia, in eastern Algeria, said 56 percent of new high school graduates at his university wanted to study English.

Saida Saklili, who recently graduated from high school, said she had chosen to study English without hesitation. “At least it will be the gateway to employment in the education sector in the next five years,” she said.

Fouad Rajeh, another new high school graduate, has also chosen to study English.

“We all know that the education sector is the first employer in Algeria,” he told Al-Fanar Media. “All disciplines, apart from English, are saturated. English will be taught at primary schools this year, so I chose to study it at university.”

A Cautious Welcome and Concerns

A spokesman for Algeria’s National Council of Secondary Schools said the council welcomed the decision to make English a general subject in educational curricula because it is the language of science, development, and technology, and the first language globally.

The success of the changeover, however, will depend on the Ministry of National Education meeting certain conditions, said Faouaz Mazkour, the council’s media officer.

“Teaching English at primary schools requires a carefully studied educational programme to suit the age of pupils. The process also requires resources to cover the cost of hiring specialised teachers.”

Faouaz Mazkour Media officer at Algeria’s National Council of Secondary Schools

“Teaching English at primary schools requires a carefully studied educational programme to suit the age of pupils,” Mazkour said. “The process also requires resources to cover the cost of hiring specialised teachers.”

He emphased that the council was against assigning English teaching to nonspecialist teachers.

Other observers expressed concerns about how quickly the change would happen.

“Teaching English is good,” said the political activist Othman Ben Said. “However, it will be implemented in an ill-considered manner. This will cause chaos because the academic year begins next month.”

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He said the Ministry of National Education needed to form a committee of experts to develop a plan dealing with curricula and content before putting the change into effect.

Ben Said warned that given the difficulty of hiring the large number of teachers needed, “officials may rely on French teachers to teach English. This will be a grave mistake.”

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