Strong backing demonstrates Algeria's commitment to raising the quality of education

 

The Algerian government continues to move forward in its quest to raise the quality of the education sector. According to the Algerian Literacy Society, the literacy rate rose from 68.4% in 1998 to 86% in 2015, and the Ministry of National Education (Ministère de l’Éducation Nationale, MEN) claims a primary and secondary schooling enrolment rate of over 97%. These achievements come on the back of a growing awareness of the need to make changes to the country’s primary and secondary education system. Indeed, a sweeping national education reform was implemented at the start of the 2016/17 school year.

The current minister of national education, Nouria Benghabrit-Remaoun, has moved forward with reforms, and continues to find ways to innovate and change a highly centralised education system. Such awareness of the current system’s shortcomings – coupled with Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal’s commitment in 2015 to maintain the necessary budget for education despite the drop in national revenues stemming from the substantial fall in oil and gas prices – provides cause for optimism.

Organizational Structure

The Algerian schooling system comprises 12 years split into three sections, which all fall under the jurisdiction of the MEN. Primary school starts at six years of age and lasts for five years. It is followed by middle school, which lasts for four years, and three years of secondary school, either in high school or at a vocational or technical school.

Enrolment rates remain strong thanks to punitive regulations for parents who do not enrol their children and subsidies for low-income households. However, in its 2015/16 “Global Competitiveness Report”, the World Economic Forum ranked the quality of Algeria’s primary school system 115th out of 140 economies surveyed.

Finances

Funds are allocated by the government and are complemented regionally by each wilaya (province). Despite the drop in public revenues brought on by the oil crisis, the government budgetted AD764.1bn (€6.3bn) to the education sector in 2016. With this increase of more than 1.85% compared to 2015, education had the second-largest sectoral allowance in the 2016 budget after the AD1.118trn (€9.2bn) allocated to defence.

In the Algiers wilaya the Popular Assembly allocated a budget of AD2bn (€16.5m) in 2016 to the cost of maintenance and upgrade work on more than 400 schools within the city of Algiers alone.

According to officials from the wilaya quoted in local media, around 1500 restoration operations were conducted on 697 primary and 226 secondary schools in the Algiers wilaya in preparation for the 2016/17 school year, primarily targeting heating and hygiene infrastructure.

Primary and secondary schooling is free in Algeria, and financial support of AD3000 (€24.80) per student is provided to low-income families. According to a study published in 2016 by the National Statistics Bureau, surveyed Algerian households spent a combined AD45.1bn (€373.1m) on education in 2011.

Languages & Curricula

Arabic and Tamazight – which is widely spoken by the Berber communities in the Kabylie region – are Algeria’s official languages. Primary and secondary schooling in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) has increasingly been implemented since the country’s independence in 1964, and especially since the 2004 decision for most curricula to be taught in MSA.

Every school – whether public or private, primary or secondary – has to teach the national curriculum, which is designed by the MEN to be almost entirely in MSA. While seen as a fundamental element in protecting national identity, primary and secondary schooling delivered in MSA is confronted with a social reality seen in many Arabic-speaking nations in that Algerian Derija is more widely spoken than MSA.

Benghabrit-Remaoun has been increasingly highlighting the disconnect between the dialect and MSA in schools, and warning of the impact on children’s future scholastic successes. According to a 2013 study by the MEN, only 4% of children made it to the baccalaureate without repeating a grade at least once. Though likely a product of multiple dynamics, this low rate prompted Benghabrit-Remaoun to call for the use of Derija at least in primary schooling at a 2015 education conference.

English-Language Teaching

According to Martin Daltry, director of the British Council in Algiers, Algeria has begun implementing a “Marshall Plan for English”, which translates into a commitment to work with foreign actors to improve the quality of English-language teaching in the Algerian school system. Despite the MEN’s calls for reform, there is “a lack of well-trained teachers and a lack of real progressive reform of the pedagogical approaches to language teaching,” according to Hacene Chaib, director of the Algerian Learning Centre (ALC). “University does not train one to be a language teacher, and it is difficult to attract native speakers to come and teach here,” Chaib told OBG.

Indeed, while native English speakers with English-Language Teaching (ELT) certificates can travel the world to teach, the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security does not recognise the ELT certificate as a sufficient qualification to issue a work permit. Thus, while English speakers are currently in high demand in Algeria, there remain issues of quality regarding teaching and teacher training to be ironed out by the public authorities.

A number of non-governmental initiatives are attempting to address this. The British Council, for instance, is working with academy inspectors within the MEN on improving the impact of English-language provision in the classroom. There are around 400 academy inspectors of English for 32,000 teachers. The British Council also organises an annual teaching conference, held in Oran and Algiers the past two years, which brings almost 1500 teachers from the public and private sector together with education experts from the UK. The MEN has typically been able to secure funding for 300 teachers to facilitate their attendance.

Other private institutes exist for Algerians wishing to strengthen their English. The ALC, for instance, offers courses to schoolchildren, university students, and government and private sector employees. In addition, it has partner UK universities that offer pre-enrolment language training of six months to a year for Algerian students to consolidate their English prior to attending university. The centre also offers annual linguistic trips to the UK and the US.

Private Sector

Private providers have been increasingly popular among parents wishing to educate their children in both Arabic and French since the 2004 decision to teach the curriculum predominately in MSA. That said, “the private sector remains largely marginal, accounting for approximately 1% of all primary and secondary school pupils for about 500 schools”, Chaib told OBG.

Private providers are also asked to apply the MSA curriculum. However, many distinguish themselves with attempts at an innovative pedagogical approach, as well as preparing pupils for both the Algerian and French baccalaureates at the same time. This means double the workload for pupils, but is seen locally as a way to secure a better quality education. The government, however, continues to exercise tight control over curricula, making it difficult for primary and secondary providers to innovate in their teaching methods.

Private providers in the higher education sector face similar challenges. “It is difficult to create private foreign education systems like the American University of Cairo or Dubai in Algeria, due to the highly centralised curriculum. However, some progress is being made on that front,” Bitat told OBG.

Indeed, partnerships facilitating student and professor exchanges have already been developed between local management school INSIM and the University of Quebec and Paris Graduate School of Management on MBA programmes, in which professors come from Quebec to INSIM to lecture on an executive MBA programme.

In addition, the European Institute of Business Administration and ICN Business School Nancy-Metz have partnered with a local management institute to offer academic exchanges.

The private higher education sector is also undergoing restructuring. In June 2016 the minister of higher education and scientific research, Tahar Hadjar, reaffirmed the government’s will to revise the rules related to the creation of private higher education institutions, and make it easier for providers to meet the legal requirements. This came as the government voiced its commitment to identifying providers that do not meet the requirements and invite them to regularise their situation.

Vocational Training

Students can opt to enrol in vocational training institutes from the age of 16, once they have completed their compulsory primary education. Overseen by the Ministry of Training and Professional Teaching (Ministère de la Formation et de l’Enseignement Professionel, MFEP), Algeria has more than 1400 vocational training centres offering a range of courses in subjects such as construction, textiles, traditional handicrafts and agriculture.

Faced with an ever-changing job market, vocational training centres and the MFEP are having to rethink the range of courses on offer to better suit current needs. Some centres are not able to meet labour market requirements because curricula are highly centralised, which makes it difficult to adjust to changing needs. This is particularly problematic with regards to languages. English is indeed in increasing demand, particularly in the hydrocarbons sector, where foreign oil and gas contractors are starting to request a basic level of proficiency in English from their local staff.

Sector Specific

In an attempt to adjust training to meet current market needs, the MFEP partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture in January 2016 to create vocational training “centres of excellence” in seven provinces to focus on agriculture and other priority sectors, including industry and tourism.

These centres are expected to support the government’s attempts to reduce the national economy’s dependency on hydrocarbons. For instance, the vocational training institute of Lakhdaria in northern Algeria has been turned into a centre of excellence in agriculture, and is due to provide training in the fields of the dairy industry, beekeeping, cereal growing, arboriculture, as well as olive growing and stockbreeding.

According to the MFEP, similar training centres of excellence in agriculture are due to open in the provinces of Aïn Defla, Biskra, Bouïra, El Oued, Khenchela, Mascara, Mebarki and Oran. Such courses are expected to provide qualified labour for Algeria’s growing agriculture sector (see Agriculture chapter).

In June 2016 Algeria and the UN announced their intention to develop an exchange and cooperation programme in vocational education and training, in line with the guidelines for the work of UN agencies in Algeria. According to the MFEP, the programme, which will run from 2016-20, will be constructed with the UN’s sustainable development goals in mind.

Entrepreneurship

Promoting entrepreneurship in school and during secondary training or university is crucial to developing a strong labour force. Prior to the oil price crisis, young people could get small loans from the government to start a business.

“Businesses in the services industry, such as co-working spaces, for instance, were of particular interest,” Leah Bitat, the field director for Algeria at World Learning, told OBG. “However, with the budget cuts, this system may not exist for much longer,” Bitat added.

Foreign initiatives have been set up to support and promote Algerian entrepreneurship, particularly by the US State Department and the Middle East Partnership Initiative. These include coaching opportunities and courses on how to run a business, given that only business schools teach such skills.

International Relations

The Ministry of Higher Education and of Scientific Research has been increasing its scientific research cooperation with some European governments over the past couple of years. In May 2016 the Algerian and the Spanish governments signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop cooperation in scientific research and technical development. According to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, the MoU is aimed at facilitating exchanges and cooperation between research centres in both countries and encouraging the development of joint research projects.

Similar scientific cooperation is being developed with the UK through the British Council, which helped facilitate the enrolment of 100 Algerian PhD students in UK universities. “This initiative aims to train the next generation of academics for Algerian universities, whether in literature, linguistics, history, political science and other fields,” said Daltry.

In terms of foreign schools, the American International School of Algiers is set to open in the Ben Aknoun neighbourhood of the capital at the start of the 2016/17 school year. Teaching will be offered in English and will follow the American educational curriculum. The school is open to both Algerians and foreign students, and will include an Arabic language component as well as two modules on Algerian history and geography.

Teacher Recruitment

According to the MEN, 677,856 candidates registered to take the written exam to become a teacher in June 2016. Only 148,689 got a call-back for an oral exam in July. In the end, 28,000 teaching positions were opened for the 2016/17 year. Abdelhakim Belabed, secretary-general of the MEN, told local media that the ministry would hire 135,000 schoolteachers by 2019 in a bid to replace retiring teachers and staff new schools.

Infrastructure

Prime Minister Sellal inaugurated a host of new infrastructure for the sector in spring of 2016. The focus was especially on the northern wilaya of Tiaret, which had 11 new schools built for the September 2016 term and 25 ongoing projects. In Sougueur, to the south-east of the city of Tiaret, an AD1.3bn (€10.8m) annex was added to Université Ibn Khaldoun. The annex has a capacity of 1000 additional seats as well as a 500-bed-capacity residence. Additionally, a new 800-seat, AD258m (€2.1m) high school in Aïn Zraït was also opened. The school has all modern amenities including sports facilities and new laboratories.

In Medroussa a vocational training centre with a 250-student capacity was inaugurated – including room for 60 boarding students – six workstations and six classrooms. It is expected to offer training in horticulture, mechanics (particularly on fixing agricultural machinery), construction and carpentry.

Ict

While an estimated 9000 schools of all levels are connected to the internet, access to ICT for both students and staff remains minimal. In a bid to improve teacher training in ICT, the MEN signed an agreement in May 2016 with public IT firm Alfatron, which is based in Oran, to train 40,000 teachers through the Microsoft IT Academy.

By 2018 the company aims to put together an e-education platform where teachers will be able to post online course content and exercises for their students. As part of the agreement, Alfatron and the MEN are launching a pilot “e-classroom” project in the central region of the country, equipped with an interactive whiteboard, tablets and an augmented reality projection screen. Negotiations are ongoing to secure funding for three other pilot e-classrooms in the west, south and eastern regions, according to Alfatron’s statements to local media.

A number of private actors have begun providing distance learning and online curricula for their students. The British Council, for instance, offers internationally available online content as part of its broader curriculum. “Algeria is at the top of our online content usage,” said Daltry.

Outlook

Rising literacy and enrolment rates, coupled with maintained public spending despite the downturn in oil and gas prices, are signs of the progress that has been made in Algeria’s education sector over the past few decades. That said, many challenges remain to be addressed, including the high degree of centralisation in the education system, for instance. Nonetheless, the ongoing push for structural reforms should improve the pedagogical approach in classrooms, and ultimately help drive rising standards in the sector in the years ahead.

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The Report: Algeria 2016

Education & Health chapter from The Report: Algeria 2016