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Language-In-education Planning in Algeria- Historical Development and Current Issues

Language-In-education Planning in Algeria- Historical Development and Current Issues

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MOHAMED BENRABAH
LANGUAGE-IN-EDUCATION PLANNING IN ALGERIA:HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT AND CURRENT ISSUES
(Received 1 March 2006; accepted in revised form 31 December 2006)ABSTRACT. The paper presents the language policy (arabisation) pursued inAlgeria since independence in 1962. The first section of the paper focuses on therecent changes in government language policy (return to Arabic–French bilingualismin schools) and reactions to them following the recommendations made by theNational Commission for the Reform of the Educational System in March 2001. Thesecond part gives a historical background to post-independent language-in-educationplanning. The third section looks at the unplanned developments resulting from thehegemonic nature of linguistic arabisation. The fourth section explores secondaryschool students’ attitudinal reactions towards Algeria’s linguistic pluralism. Finally,the paper argues that the Algerian leadership’s refusal to recognise linguistic plu-ralism considered beneficial by the majority of the population represents one of themajor obstacles to the nation-building process.KEY WORDS: Algeria, arabisation, bilingualism, English, French, languageattitudes, language educational policy, language hegemony, language maintenance,TamazightABBREVIATIONS: CNRSE – National Commission for the Reform of the Edu-cational System; FFS – Socialist Forces Front; MCB – Berber Cultural Movement;HCA – High Commission for Berber A
ff 
airs
Introduction
Algeria’s development history since its independence consists of three main phases each of which has had an impact on languageeducation policies. The first phase is characterised by the coloniallegacies amongst which was a network of schools and an educa-tional system dominated by the French language with Arabic grow-ing steadily in importance. The second phase lasted from the late1960s to the late 1990s and corresponded to the socialist-era centralplanning economy, called the nationalist transition. The Arabic lan-guage was gradually imposed in the educational sector. An extreme
Language Policy (2007) 6:225–252
Ó
Springer 2007DOI 10.1007/s10993-007-9046-7
 
version of exclusive nationalism inspired by the 19th centuryEuropean ideal of linguistic convergence marked this era. The thirdphase began in the early 2000s corresponding to the transition tothe free economic market with less assertive arabisation policies.During the third phase, the authorities have encountered hostilityto the reform of the schooling system. In fact, the Algerian govern-ment has come to admit that education has ‘‘failed’’. Two examplesof student achievement will be used here as recent illustrations of this failure. In June 2005, ten classes in the city of Mascara tooktheir final examination at the end of the primary cycle (Sixth Formexamination for 11–12 year olds) and not one single pupil suc-ceeded. The second illustration concerns university standards. Inmid-November 2005, the Minister of Higher Education declaredthat 80% of first-year students fail their final exams because of lin-guistic incompetence. The majority of the student population whoenrol in higher education have been schooled through Literary/Classical Arabic only and are hence weak in French, the languageof instruction in scientific disciplines (Allal, 2005: 13; Maı ¨z &Rouadjia, 2005: 13). What is more, the imposition of an exclusivelyArabic monolingual schooling system implemented during thenationalist phase is considered to be a major source of its current‘‘failure’’, of the rise of religious fanaticism, and the civil war thathas ravaged Algeria since the early 1990s (Benrabah, 1999a: 154– 160, 2004: 71–73; Byrd, 2003: 78; Co
ff 
man, 1992: 147 & 185, 1995).The issue of language education policies in Algeria is a sensitiveissue embroiled in passionate politics and, as correctly assessed byBerger (2002: 8), it is ‘‘the most severe problem of Algeria in itspresent and troubled state’’. This situation sets Algeria apart fromthe rest of the Arab world and Africa and makes it a particularlyinstructive example for the fields of language policy and language-in-education planning.The present paper aims to examine Algeria’s language educationpolicies since its independence. It will be organised as follows. Thefirst part will present recent reforms and opposition to their imple-mentation. In the second section, a description of post-independentlanguage-in-education planning will be given with a view to set thebackground for a better understanding of the current situation. Inthe third section, it will be argued that the hegemony of linguisticarabisation has led to resistance and to the maintenance olanguages that were targeted by arabisation. The fourth part of the paper will explore Algerian secondary-school students’ attitudes
mohamed benrabah
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towards Algeria’s multilingualism. In the final section, it will beargued that the opposition of the Algerian leadership to linguisticpluralism remains the major obstacle to the process of nation-building.
Educational System in Crisis: Reforms and Reactions
Since the early 2000s, the issue of languages in the educational sys-tem has been the subject of considerable debate in Algeria: shouldschools continue to favour monolingualism in Arabic or shouldthey adopt Arabic–French bilingualism? Arabo-Islamists, who sup-port the policy of arabisation (monolingualism), are opposed to‘‘Modernists’’ (mainly secular and/or francophone members of thepopulation and the elite) who call for the implementation of Ara-bic–French bilingualism. The debate reached its climax in 2002when opponents to bilingual education issued a
fatwa
against sup-porters of educational reforms (Abdelhai, 2001: 7) and consideredthe defenders of bilingualism as the ‘‘enemies of Islam and theArabic language’’ and the ‘‘supporters of forced Westernisation of Algerians’’*
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(Djamel, 2001: 3). Due to be implemented in Septem-ber 2001, the reforms were suspended by the Ministry of the Inte-rior on 3 September 2001.This strong opposition came as a reaction to the recommenda-tions made in mid-March 2001 by the National Commission forthe Reform of the Educational System (CNRSE in French) set upin May 2000 by the newly elected Head of State, President Abdela-ziz Bouteflika. In March 2001, the CNRSE recommended thatFrench be reintroduced as the first mandatory foreign language inGrade Two (for 6–7 year olds) of the primary cycle instead of starting it in Grade Four (for 8–9 year olds) as had been the casesince the late 1970s. The CNRSE also suggested that scientific dis-ciplines be taught in French instead of Arabic in secondary schools(Sebti, 2001). The obvious intended outcomes are bilingualism andbiliteracy as ways of improving student achievement. It requires aclear shift from a ‘‘weak’’ bilingual education – French taught as asubject – to a ‘‘strong’’ form of bilingual education which involvesstudents learning content (scientific disciplines) through Arabic andFrench.
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Quotes marked by an asterisk were translated from Arabic or French by the presentauthor.
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