Algeria introduces English into schools to replace colonial French
The decision to shift the language of instruction from French to English in Algeria has caused a drift between the conservatives who agree and the secular public who oppose.
Considered a spark of hope for many, Algeria decided to begin the introduction of English lessons into primary schools as a checkmate against the decades-long prevailing language of former occupier France.
A debated issue for decades in the North African country whose official languages are Arabic and the Berbers' Tamazight, French is still widely spoken in Algeria, 60 years after independence from 132 years of colonial occupation and a brutal eight-year war at the hands of the French, who still refuse to apologize for their colonial brutality infested in their past as former occupiers in the Middle East and Africa.
Algerian daily life embodies the French language as it is the mode of instruction in schools and businesses and is spoken by millions in the Algerian diaspora, particularly in France, but that has come to stir up memories of the European nation's former days of imperialist takeover.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune gave an order to the Education Ministry to introduce the English language into primary school curricula which began in September - marking the first task on the checklist in a plan to expand English tuition in the coming years. This comes weeks after Tebboune labeled the French language as "war booty" in a statement to journalists in July while adding that "English is the international language."
"I want to drop the language of the colonizer and adopt the language used worldwide," said Hacene, the father of a primary student in the capital Algiers.
Tensions began in October last year between the two nations when French president Emmanuel Macron questioned the existence of an Algeria prior to French colonization by asking, "Was there an Algerian nation before French colonization?"
Another father, Farouk Lazizi whose two children attend a primary school in the capital, expressed, "Teaching English in primary school is sensible" but admitted he has mixed feelings on the decision, adding, "We need to prepare things well because most Algerian parents aren't ready to teach English to their kids."
In a span of two months, 5,000 new teachers were hired and put on an intensive training program to catch up, as new manuals were rewritten and distributed to schools. As a result, the Education Ministry confirmed job applications submitted by 60,000 people for jobs requiring an undergraduate degree in English or translation.
The process was criticized as being so rushed that translators who "aren't even trained to teach" were recruited to expand and make up for the scarcity of English-speaking teachers, according to linguist Abderzak Dourari.
Concerns worry education specialists regarding the challenges posed by adding another language to schools above Arabic, Tamazight, French, and now English, even if the flaws are phased out, as Ahmed Tessa, a pedagogy expert and former English teacher says, "Teaching four languages to primary school children will confuse them."
'French has done its time'
The decision was labeled as "overdue" by Sadek Dziri, a member of UNPEF, a powerful teachers' union, who also glorified English as "the language of science and technology," while an anonymous parent described French as the "language of the colonizer," adding that it "hasn't brought good results."
Teachers such as Abdelhamid Abed, who teaches English at an Algiers middle school, joined in on the argument that "French has done its time," and that "we shouldn't see this question in terms of rivalry between French and English but from a practical standpoint."
Although it would be considered a positive move for the country, Dourari said the shift would be hard to instantly execute since Algeria's history and cultural-economic ties are dependent on France, as he noted, "There's an Algerian diaspora of more than eight million living in France... there are mixed families, who come and go."
Macron attempted to rebuild ties with Algeria in August this year during a three-day trip he made to the country and after Tebboune withdrew his country's ambassador and banned French military aircraft from its airspace.
Tessa relayed the message that President Tebboune's "war booty" remark demonstrated the benefits Algeria has reaped from having French in its "institutional and socio-economic life," as he continued, "Those who are hostile to French believed it would be dropped entirely from primary school curricula... they're dreaming of seeing it disappear."