Algeria continues to pursue its ambitions to upgrade the overall quality of education nationwide. Although results are slow to come by, the sector has made some headway over the years with school enrolment rates at the primary and secondary levels exceeding 97% and illiteracy rates dropping to 14% in 2014, down from 22% in 2008. This comes on the back of sustained efforts on behalf of the government to boost schooling capacities through enhanced infrastructure, teacher training, aligning offerings with the needs of the job market, as well as reaching out and raising awareness on the importance of education in the disadvantaged areas of the country.
Despite the overall drop in revenues stemming from plunging oil prices, 9.8% of government spending was allocated to the education sector for the 2015/16 academic year, up 2.33% year-on-year (y-o-y), underscoring the importance of the sector in the eyes of public authorities. Highlights of the 2015/16 academic year include further partnerships in the field of vocational training, extending the tuition of Amazigh language to 20 wilayas (provinces), up from 11, and a greater focus on Arabic language, mathematics and computer science.
The average number of primary pupils per classroom in Algeria stood at 27 in 2011, down from 30 in 2004, according to the most recent figures from the Ministry of National Education. Meanwhile, the average number of middle school students per classroom was 37 in 2011, up from 36 in 2004.
An estimated 97% of Algerian children are enrolled in primary and secondary school. According to the Ministry of National Education, for the 2015/16 school year, Algeria will have 8.1m students with 4.1m in primary school, 2.7m in middle school and 1.3m in secondary schools. Algeria’s schools for the 2015/16 academic year total 25,946, including 18,350 primary, 5346 middle and 2250 secondary schools. In terms of staffing, the 2015/16 academic year will see a total of 400,000 teachers for all three levels combined, including 19,000 first-time instructors.
Between 2010 and 2014, the government reportedly spent $45bn on the education sector, which included targeting the construction of 5000 new schools. This looks set to continue: in an address in July 2015, Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal tied the government’s educational push to the country’s drive for an advanced and trained workforce, renewing the government’s budgetary commitment to the sector despite the economic setbacks caused largely by the loss of oil revenue.
There is a need to maintain the high level of capital investment in the sector. After the beginning of the 2014/15 academic year the National Federation of Student Parent Associations stated that overcrowding was affecting some 4000 schools in the country, with certain wilayas being more affected than others. Immediate measures adopted in the 2015/16 academic year to relieve overcrowding in schools have consisted in introducing double-shift schooling – by which two different groups of students occupy the same classroom at different times of the day – and mobile classrooms. However, these measures are only to be considered temporary, reassured Nouria Benghebrit, the minister of education, stating that only 5% of schooling institutions nationwide are affected by the double-shift schooling solution.
While public funds are going into the construction of new schools across Algeria, urban migration is making some facilities obsolete. As more and more Algerians gravitate towards larger urban centres, the falling population in some villages is also posing a challenge for authorities in terms of infrastructure and equipment management.
In May 2015 the president announced the commitment of the government to allocate an extra spending plan to repair decaying schools, including the construction of hundreds of new facilities: 562 primary schools, 231 middle schools and 276 secondary high schools, and 156 school canteens, 108 half-boarding schools and 23 boarding schools.
Primary & Secondary Level
Primary and secondary education are compulsory in Algeria, and the government’s efforts over the years have primarily focused on establishing the legal framework to enforce this. Primary school begins at six years of age and lasts five years. This is then followed by four years of middle school. A reform package that was introduced in 2008 reduced primary schooling to five years, instead of six, which compounded overcrowding problems at a number of schools.
The quality of the country’s primary education was ranked 115th among 140 economies globally assessed by the World Economic Forum in its “Global Competitiveness Report 2015/16”. This is below neighbouring Morocco at 110th or Tunisia at 86th. The country fared considerably better in terms of primary school enrolment rates, ranking 36th, compared to 21st for Morocco and 10th for Tunisia.
The past few years have also seen the use of regulatory tools to step up enrolment rates. Year-long expulsions of pupils from schools have been banned, and a system of fines was implemented in 2010 for parents who do not ensure that their children attend school. For the 2015/16 school year, approximately 8.1m students were enrolled in primary, middle and high school education.
Primary and secondary schooling fall under the responsibility of the Ministry of National Education, which is complemented regionally by ministerial offices in each wilaya. However, application of directives in the field can be problematic, and as a result, authorities have increased training for staff to better manage the system across Algeria’s vast territory.
Despite being public and free, some economic inequalities still arise in the public system due to the differential learning pace between students that attend preschool and those who do not. To solve this issue, the ministry has mooted the possibility of generalising preschool to ensure that students reach primary school with similar experiences and a common learning background. To that end, 54% of primary schools in the northern wilaya of Ain Defla, for instance, will open their doors to preschool students during the 2015/16 academic year. To complement free schooling, authorities have continued support for low-income students. Funds are channelled annually through the Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity to support a one-off payment for school books and materials for low-income students. In 2015/16 school year, more than 4.2m students received school books for free.
Prime de scolarité is a subsidy valued at AD3000 (€27.60) per student, which is provided to low-income families. According to government figures, some 3m students received this type of government support at the beginning of the 2015/16 academic year.
Overseen by the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, university education is an option for those students who do not pursue technical or vocational training. Since 2000 higher education has seen notable investments in infrastructure due to the growing number of entrants, which increased more than five-fold between 1990 and 2015, totalling 1.5m students. There are 91 public higher education providers.
The government is making efforts to boost staffing figures. The number of university educators will be expanded by the enlisting 4600 new lecturers, who will be added to the 52,500 lecturers currently working, including 5500 professors. This would amount to one instructor for every 22 students in Algeria’s university system, according to Tahar Hadjar, the minister for higher education and scientific research.
New facilities are also being built. Mascara in north-western Algeria, for example, is the site of development for a new university, Mustapha Stambouli College. The college campus will house social sciences, humanities and arts and languages faculty, as well as 50 ha of land for agricultural sciences.
Private higher education institutions are absorbing a rising number of students. This is partly a consequence of the development of private primary and secondary education over the past decade, which is in turn due to the fact that many parents want their children to pursue a French education, especially following a 2004 Cabinet decision that 90% of curricula would be taught exclusively in Arabic, unlike in the past when a large portion of teaching was done in French.
Private establishments in the tertiary segment are limited to delivering two-year technical diplomas (brevet de technicien supérieur, BTS) or alternatively they can provide higher education degrees in partnership with a foreign university.
The BTS is recognised by the government and delivered by the Ministry of Training and Professional Education (Ministère de la Formation et de l’ Enseignement Professionnels, MFEP). Students do not necessarily need to have a baccalaureate diploma to pursue a BTS degree. Additionally, the restriction on issuing higher education degrees has encouraged partnerships with foreign institutions. Management school INSIM, for instance, delivers MBA programmes in partnership with the University of Quebec and the Paris Graduate School of Management, while the School of Technical Training Management delivers diplomas in partnership with the Paris-based European Institute of Business Administration and French ICN business school (Nancy-Metz).
Algeria and more than 40 other French-speaking countries have also agreed to collaborate in developing a global digital francophone university site, which will offer more than 80 open and distance education courses at bachelor and master’s degree levels. Students can access the resource through a network of 74 digital campuses in 44 countries. The aim of the initiative is the circulation of knowledge and the open utilisation of digital resources among francophone higher educational institutions.
Access To ICT
Improving connectivity is also central to the government’s attempts to strengthen the education sector. An estimated 9000 schools of all levels are now connected to Algeria’s national internet network, where school courses are being digitised to meet the needs of the educational sector.
In 2013, Algeria instituted the e-Algeria initiative to accelerate ICT use in the country. The e-Algeria initiative aims to boost access to ICT equipment, expand human capacities and strengthen research, development and innovation in the country.
Meanwhile, a number of private initiatives including distance learning and online curriculum are also being rolled out. Algerian Learning Centres, for example, is an education company that offers English-language courses online to Algerian students and uses e-learning technology to teach students.
“The rise in private sector and corporate activity has led to a higher demand in English language instruction, and a rise in accredited language centres,” said Hacene Chaib, the general manager of Algerian Learning Centres.
Another web-based learning service is iMadrassa, which was established to provide Algerian students with course lessons, tests, e-learning activities and, soon, video resources from the national educational curricula. Begun in May 2014, the online service currently offers senior high school-level materials, but plans to expand to include all high school grade levels in early 2016. iMadrassa uses recently retired teachers and offers an all-access subscription at a monthly fee of AD500-900 ($4.60-$8.28).
Dirassatti, another recent online initiative, was also launched in 2014. This platform also provides senior-year high school coursework and includes tests in math, physics, and life and earth sciences developed by educators in alignment with the national educational programmes set by the Ministry of National Education. The material for the course is provided in both written and video form.
After finishing compulsory education, students can choose to enrol in secondary school or vocational training, which is overseen by the MFEP. There are over 1400 vocational education and training centres in Algeria, offering more than 400 courses, and efforts have recently focused on broadening the range of courses to bring skills in line with the needs of the job market.
The number of students enrolled in vocational training in 2015/16 rose 14% y-o-y according to local media reports, exceeding 377,000 students. Under the 2010-14 five-year plan, vocational training was allocated AD178bn (€1.7bn), which was channelled to infrastructure modernisation and the construction of 220 institutes, 58 vocational boarding schools and 82 training centres. The government has said it will continue to support training and education under its 2015-19 development plan.
Mohamed Mebarki, the minister of vocational education and training, told local press in late October 2015 that specialised centres of excellence in priority sectors – including construction and public works, electricity, agriculture and tourism – will be created in cooperation with public and private sector companies such as Cosider, Knauf, Schneider Electric and Seignerie to improve the skills of the labour force. Meanwhile, in the agricultural sector, centres of excellence will also be established in Ain Defla, Mascara, El Oued and Khenchela. The first centres are expected to open in early 2016.
By expanding the number of vocational courses on offer, the country is also looking to reach its most underprivileged areas to improve job options Private players are also taking a role in building up job skills. The Renault Algeria Academy was opened in the autumn of 2015 for the first time to external trainees. The academy is offering two MFEP-approved programmes – in sales and electro-mechanics. Students will be taught at the academy and within Renault’s Algerian branches, with practical learning taking place in real workshops dedicated to training.
Rising enrolment rates are cause for optimism, yet a number of challenges remain. Much of Algeria’s success to date has been the result of strong budget spending on the sector, but the recent downturn in oil prices may cause the government to reconsider. Meanwhile, aligning Algeria’s educational offerings with the country’s needs for skilled labour will also be key, with the partnerships struck in the field of vocational training certainly playing a key role in bridging the gap over the short and medium term. Nonetheless, sustained investment in infrastructure to address issues such as classroom overcrowding at the primary and secondary levels will be a determining factor in enhancing the quality of education on offer. In this regard, teacher training, greater use of technological solutions and local and foreign collaboration are some of the main elements to be taken into consideration for the development of the sector.