Education reforms march on in Algeria

On the eve of Algeria’s national sovereignty from French colonial rule (1830-1962), less than 1,000 students were enrolled in school in the country. The education system was highly exclusive and geared toward the training of a colonial elite. With the creation of the Ministry of Education in 1963, the process of building an inclusive and open national education system was set in motion. 

Algerian officials placed their focus on a number of goals, primary among which were the curriculum and faculty, the upgrading of teaching skills at all levels and the promotion of a skilled class of workers and technicians.

Education has been viewed as the top priority in the agenda of the different governments that have succeeded so far. Education is the best way to lift people out of poverty, combat growing income inequality and increase upward social mobility. Algeria has allocated more than a quarter of its national budget to enhance an effective education system. Education is viewed as the main driver of economic growth.

A generous policy of student support has been put in place from the first year of national independence. It comprises financial support, free room, catering, transportation, medical services and other facilities. More than 85 percent of students are granted scholarship. This is a unique phenomenon in North Africa.

Over the years, the education system has gone through several stages as political regimes changed. However, 50 or so years since the country committed itself to growth in education, this emerging regional power accounts for roughly two million students in universities, colleges, institutes and vocational schools.

Laying a strong foundation

Algeria inherited an education system in complete disarray and enrollments in schools at all levels totaled only 850,000, out of a population of ten million. Officials set out to redesign the entire system to make it more suited to the needs of a developing nation.

The hallmarks of the program were indigenization and Arabization, with an emphasis on scientific and technical studies. The authorities sought to increase literacy, provide free education, make primary school enrollment compulsory and replace French with Arabic in curricula.

They also planned to channel students into scientific and technical fields, reflecting the needs of the Algerian industrial and managerial sectors. This new educational approach has been gradual, incremental and marked by a political willingness to create a new type of citizen who cares about his environment – local, regional and international.

Massification was a core part of Algerian reforms, motivated partly by the demographic reality of a large youth population. More than 60 percent of the population is under 30 years of age. As many as 853,780 students – 499,325 girls and 354,455 boys – took the university degree examination in June 2015, which is viewed as a ticket to a good job in the largest emerging market in Africa. Roughly half of
the students passed.

Today, the country’s literacy rate stands at approximately 80 percent, a phenomenal improvement from 15 percent in the early 1960s.

Education system

Speaking to the media in September 2015, Nouria Benghebrit, Minister of National Education, stated, “8,112,475 pupils join the school benches: 4,109,964 pupils in primary schools, 2,666,227 in the intermediary and 1,336,884 cycle in secondary school, supervised by more than 400,000 teachers.”

Perhaps this is mainly because education is free and compulsory for Algerians up to age 16. Arabic is the main language of instruction during the first nine years of schooling, with French being introduced from the third year onwards as the secondary language.

The structure of the school system is based on a 6+3+3 model: six years of primary school, followed by three years of lower secondary school and another three years of upper secondary school, which is called lycée. Together, these nine years of primary and lower secondary education make up the compulsory basic education phase.

In 1982, approximately four million pupils were enrolled in the nine-year basic education track – this was at a time when the government claimed that 81 percent of all six-year-olds were attending schools. Girls accounted for 38.8 percent of total enrollments in secondary and technical schools.

In 2016, more than seven million children are enrolled in the elementary schooling. At the end of basic education (grade nine) students take the examination called Brevet d’Enseignement Fondamental (BEF), which grants them access to high school. Three years after that is the baccalaureate exam.

Technical/vocational system

The technical/vocational system enrolls students who fail in the baccalaureate exam. In February 2015, close to 250,000 new trainees joined 1,200 training centers nationwide. The system mainly aims to help meet the needs of business and the labor market in terms of skilled labor, especially in tourism, construction and agriculture. After graduation, a majority of these young, trained people embarked onto the adventure of entrepreneurship.

In 2014, the government financed 40,852 micro-enterprises. This number is expected to reach 60,000 by the end of 2016. “There are micro-enterprises that bring foreign currency to the country,” said Mourad Zemali, executive director, National Agency for Youth’s Support and Employment (ANSEJ).

Political strategists have frequently viewed small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as the seeds of economic development. It is expected that the 200,000 new graduates will find ample opportunities in this sector.

“Algeria has made great efforts in the legal and institutional levels to develop vocational training capacities, a priority for the country,” said the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, in a statement to the press following his meeting with Minister of Training and Vocational Education, Noureddine Bedoui. Singh stressed that Algeria has “a highly satisfactory performance in this field and, by its experience, will contribute [toward]developing the vocational education and training in Africa.”

Work in progress

Algeria adopted the Bologna process, known as the LMD system (License/Bachelor-Master-Doctorate), in 2004. The Anglo-Saxon model of university aims at harmonizing accreditation throughout countries that are often heterogeneous.

The Algerian system of higher education is still in the process of transitioning from the traditional system to a modern and international one. Tahar Hadjar, head of the MESRS, has recently initiated a series of consultations to address the shortcomings of the LMD system. The main objective of the ongoing reform is to place universities at the heart of the country’s economic development. Algeria aims to establish a national system with effective links between industry, universities and research establishments, and between the active world and the world of ideas.

The most pressing challenge currently facing the government is how to bring together the needs of democratic access to higher education with the need for a higher quality of training in a changing world characterized by globalization constraints and the revolution
in communications.

The future of this young nation heavily relies on a skilled and well-trained labor force in a very competitive world. It is this community that will help change the face of the country.