STATEMENTS by several government ministries in Algeria stressing that the official language is Arabic have been welcomed by those who wish to see an end to teaching in French.
In recent weeks, the Ministries of Youth and Sports, of Vocational Training and Education, and of Labour, Employment, and Social Security have issued instructions to all affiliated bodies to use Arabic in official correspondence. The rules amount to a ban on the use of French.
Algeria was occupied by France from 1830 until independence in 1962. From 1848 onwards, it was not simply a colony, but an integral part of the French republic.
Algeria’s Constitution recognizes Arabic as the country’s official language, together with Tamazight, the language of the country’s Berber population. But it was only in 1991 that a law was enacted to generalise the use of Arabic. Since then, successive presidents and their governments have tried to enforce it with varying degrees of enthusiasm and success.
In early October, at the start of the new academic year, the Higher Schools of Artificial Intelligence and of Mathematics began teaching in English instead of French. The schools are affiliated with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and together have about 2,000 students.
“The switch in languages was recommended by academics and scholars inside and outside the country.”
Boualem Saidani, director general of training at the ministry, said the switch in languages was recommended by academics and scholars inside and outside the country. They saw “a need to adopt English as an instruction language, especially at the level of scientific and technological institutes and colleges,” Saidani told Al-Fanar Media.
Teachers No Longer Speak French
Juhaida Hayyan, a first-year student at the Higher School of Mathematics, said she was surprised to see the application forms were in Arabic and English. “Unusually, French was completely absent even from the official announcements of the school,” she said. “It was not on the transport, food, and accommodation cards. Teachers no longer speak French except on some rare occasions.”
Saidani described the use of English in the two schools as “a mere first step,” adding that “it will be followed by the gradual dissemination of the experience to the new university city with about 20,000 students.”
He added that “the ministry depends on training programs in English, and it supervises training workshops.”
As well as the government ministries, several health institutions and administrative bodies also ordered their staff members not to use French in daily interactions with citizens or official correspondence.
A Social Change
Abdelmadjid Chibane, a linguist and professor at the University of Bejaia in eastern Algeria, noted that this movement away from French reflected a social change.
“French has declined by more than 25 percent in the last five years, due to Algerians’ dependence on English,” he told Al-Fanar Media.
“French is also one of the heavy colonial remnants in Algeria. Getting rid of this legacy requires a strong desire and steel will.”
“A simple survey of the advertisements of Algeria’s private schools for teaching languages, and statistics of those registered there, confirms the significant decline in Algerians’ interest in French,” Chibane said. “A private school in Bejaia registered 98 people wishing to learn English, compared to 38 students who wanted to learn French this year,” he added.
For students like Juhaida Hayyan, however, the change is not easy. “I face great difficulties in adapting to English higher education curricula,” she told Al-Fanar Media. “This requires me to take intensive English evening lessons at a private school.”
She pointed out that while Algerian schoolchildren begin to learn French in primary school third grade, English lessons do not start until the second year of intermediate, or preparatory, education.
Chibane agreed there was “a need to start teaching English to primary school pupils and to increase English classes in the three educational stages (primary, preparatory, and secondary).” This, he said, would “motivate students to learn the new language, and guarantee the success of the government’s plan to officially adopt it in higher education and scientific research.”
But, he added, “French is also one of the heavy colonial remnants in Algeria. Getting rid of this legacy requires a strong desire and steel will.”