Reforms to Algeria's education system to expand capacity and modernise curricula

 

Algeria has maintained a high level of investment in education in recent years, despite the general economic contraction caused by the collapse of the hydrocarbons market in 2014. While the Ministry of National Education (Ministère de l’Education Nationale, MEN) continues to focus on improving education practices and reforming teacher training, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche Scientifique, MESRS) is concentrating on extending existing networks and institutions in order to meet rising demand, including opening up the tertiary sector to private and foreign investors.

Structure & Oversight

There are nearly 9.3m students enrolled across more than 27,000 educational establishments monitored by 749,232 officials (89.9% of whom are educational supervisors). Enrolment figures have increased by 6.8% since 2000; as of 2018, there were over 1m students enrolled at the lower education level. Education is compulsory until the age of 16, at the end of lower secondary school, when students take the Middle School Certificate (Brevet d’Enseignement Moyen, BEM) exam to determine whether or not they can continue on to upper secondary education. The pass rate for both the BEM and the baccalaureate, which is taken at the end of upper secondary school, hovers close to 60%.

The higher education system oversees 1.7m students across 106 institutions, including 50 universities, 13 university centres and 43 additional establishments. For the 2018/19 academic year, approximately 63,000 teaching staff will supervise the studies of students across the country. At both the primary and secondary level, private education is relatively underdeveloped, with only approximately 100,000 students (1%) attending around 380 nationally accredited private lower education institutions. The authorities also only recently approved the establishment of private universities. As of August 2018, nine private higher education institutions have been officially recognised. “The state imposes the same curriculum on both public and private institutions,” Lazhar Hani, chairman of Berlitz Algeria, told OBG. “However, the bottom line is that the quality of private education is much better.”

Policy

The current lower education policy follows the three pillars for educational development established in July 2014 and June 2015. These three policies focus on a pedagogical overhaul that seeks to move beyond rote memorisation techniques, improve in governance linked to self-regulation, and update and modernise teacher training. To address these areas, the MEN has created a strategic framework for primary education until 2030, which promotes these three pillars while also maintaining a general commitment to improving the quality of teaching. According to the IMF, the quality of public education in Algeria is below average for emerging economies in terms of results in international standardised tests. UNESCO’s 2017 report placed Algeria 119 out of 140 countries in terms of quality of education. However, the number of children out of school has fallen from 100,344 in 2008 to 21,362 in 2018.

Budget

Although austerity has caused budgetary contractions since the hydrocarbons crisis in 2014, education has continued to be a well-funded department in the past few years. The state has prioritised the education sector and maintained a consistent level of funding for the MEN and MESRS.

According to figures from the draft 2019 Finance Law, the MEN will receive the second-largest budget allocation, after national defence, at AD709.6bn (€5.2bn). While the amount of funding going to the sector has fallen compared to previous years, this is not a unique occurrence; local authorities and health care have also experienced a decrease in budget for 2019. Nevertheless, the education sector is allocated over AD300bn (€2.2bn) more than these departments.

Public Schools

In 2014 the state embarked upon a programme to build 733 new schools and, as of September 2018, 641 of these were under construction, with 162 set to be completed before the end of the year. Algiers, which has been particularly affected by the growing population and urbanisation rates, will benefit from over 250 new schools, with 202 of these already under construction, and 53 expected to be completed by the end of 2018.

According to the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, some classrooms can reach up to 48 students. In order to address such overcrowding, the MEN has set up pre-fabricated classrooms as a short-term solution to the lack of classroom space, particularly in primary schools. The state has also sought to address this issue by converting social housing units to classrooms in Algiers.

Primary Schools

Primary education has been at the forefront of the lower education policy since 2014, when former researcher Nouria Benghabrit was appointed as minister of national education. The net enrolment rate at the primary level meets international standards at 97.6% in 2016, while the portion of privately educated primary school students stands at only 0.9%. In the 2018/19 academic year, 48.8% of students in lower education belong to the primary level, representing over 4.5m pupils. While 19.31% of the 27,000 public schools in the country are already devoted to primary education, increasing numbers of students have put pressure on the existing infrastructure. The MEN has sought to reduce the number of students per class, which averaged 24.2 nationally in 2016 but can be much higher. The state has also been particularly active in improving school canteen facilities, spending AD26.5bn (€192.4m) annually on the provision of meals to 3.7m primary school students.

Secondary Schools

In the 2018/19 academic year lower and higher secondary students make up 31.7% and 13.7% respectively of the total enrolment rate for the lower education sector. For lower secondary education, the registration rate is above 95%.

After completing both lower and higher secondary school programmes, students are obligated to take an exam that determines whether or not they can complete further studies. Of the approximately 596,000 students taking the BEM in 2018 which advances students to higher secondary school, 56.9% passed compared to 56.3% in 2017, while the best scores in the past decade were recorded in 2012 when there was a pass rate of 72.1%. The passage rate of the baccalaureate, meanwhile, has improved significantly in the past two decades, from a success rate of 32.3% in 2000 to 55.9% in 2018. The highest pass rate was in the subject of mathematics, at 78.6%, while the wilaya (province) of Tizi Ouzou achieved the highest average score in the country at 69.2%.

Higher Education

It is significant to note that students’ grades determine their field of study in higher education, so they may not be able to pursue their first choice of subject if they do not gain the grades required to do so. In 2018 the MESRS stated that 69.51% of tertiary education enrollees were able to register for their first-choice subject. This system has been criticised for its rigidity and the inability to alter one’s educational path in higher education has led to a growing market for private education.

Higher education in Algeria has undergone a trend of expansion over the past two decades. Between 1999 and 2018 enrolment in tertiary education increased by 270%, with the number of staff correspondingly rising by 340%. While the public higher education system, overseen by the MESRS, was limited to 53 institutions in 1999, including 18 universities, large-scale investment has brought this number up to 106 higher education institutions, including 50 universities and 13 university centres.

In October 2016 the MESRS issued a decree that outlined the process of authorisation for private higher education institutions, and the first universities of this kind were officially recognised in October 2017. The standards for authorisation are high; of the 30 institutions reviewed in this first year, only three applications were granted. The first approval went to the Institut de Management Algéro-Américain, which has operated in partnership with the American Leadership University since 2013. As of August 2018, the MESRS stated that there are nine officially recognised private higher education institutions, which suggests there are significant opportunities for more private investors to enter this sector.

Enrolment

According to the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, it is estimated that at the lower education level 400,000 students drop out of school per year. Officials have attributed this problem to a lack of support for children with learning difficulties, to the extent that the state has mobilised training programmes for teachers geared towards improving support for these students by placing the most experienced teachers at the first and second grade levels. In September 2018 the MEN announced that it was working on a national strategy to address low enrolment and high dropout rates.

Enrolment rates for higher education are very high due to the government’s focus on sending every upper secondary graduate to university. As of August 2018, 96.2% of students who passed the baccalaureate that year had registered at a university. From its current enrolment figure of 1.7m, the MESRS projected that higher education institutions should expect to support 2m students in 2019/20 and 3.5m by 2030. In the 2017/18 academic year, there were 400 students for every 10,000 members of the Algerian population. This is likely to increase in coming years due to the recent baby boom. According to the MESRS, women accounted for 62.5% of registered students in higher education institutions and made up 65.6% of graduates in 2017. However, high levels of attainment do not necessarily translate into joining the workforce, which was only 18% female as of September 2018.

Scholarship

All university students can benefit from a scholarship for the duration of their studies, paid each term, calculated relative to their annual parental income, with three fixed categories of AD4050 (€29.40), AD3600 (€26.14) or AD2700 (€19.60). In 2018 AD64.5bn (€468.3m) was spent on scholarships in addition to the provision of free meals and transportation for university students, amounting to 12.6% of the MESRS budget in 2018.

The state runs the National Exceptional Programme, which provides a scholarship for doctoral students to be sent abroad in order to advance their studies. Since 2014 the MESRS has awarded scholarships to 1600 Algerian students for 18-month terms to allow them to develop new skills at foreign institutions. Algeria has also been active in establishing international partnerships in the higher education sector, particularly in the area of scientific research. Agreements have recently been made with Mauritania, Italy and Romania that foster international exchange and provide scholarships for students wishing to study abroad.

Academic Affiliations

In December 2017 the MESRS officially joined the Erasmus Plus programme, which facilitates study abroad opportunities for members of the partner countries. With a budget of €14.7bn for the 2014-20 period, Erasmus Plus, organised by the EU, aims to fund the international learning and teaching experiences of over 4m individuals, with hopes to extend this to 12m for the subsequent 2021-27 period. This academic affiliation will allow Algerian students increased opportunities to study abroad in the coming years as well as bolster Algerian relationships with foreign institutions. Every individual higher education establishment in Algeria has its own relationships with foreign universities or institutes of higher learning.

Workforce

While hiring freezes have been implemented in most areas in the public sector, education has benefitted from a series of recruitment waves in recent years. The MEN announced the recruitment of 11,487 teaching and administrative positions for the 2018/19 school year. This number is significantly lower than that of last year’s hiring cycle, for which 28,000 teachers were recruited, but this is to be expected in a period of hiring freezes.

The MESRS also announced that 3000 supervising teachers will be recruited in higher education institutions in 2018/19, bringing the total to nearly 63,000. This is almost four times more than the number of teachers employed in 1999, which was around 17,000. Despite the recruitment wave, the educational workforce has challenged the government since 2017 by demanding improved wages and pension plans. Officials have recognised trade unions to the extent that teachers have now gained collective bargaining power. As of September 2018, Benghabrit announced that 67% of union concerns had been addressed, 11% were in the process of negotiation and 21% were outside the MEN’s jurisdiction. The MEN emphasised the need for the provision of quality education and seeks to remedy the challenges raised by the trade unions to continue to improve education services.

Teacher Training

As one of the three areas of focus for government policy, Benghabrit stated that the 2018/19 academic year would emphasise the importance of educational training. The current training programme, which supported nearly 80,000 teachers in the 2017/18 cycle, is part of the national training plan that is expected to run until 2020. The programme is geared towards creating a more professional approach to education, with an emphasis on training on every level, as well as updating the curriculum for the technological age.

Vocational Training

The state cites vocational training as one of its key strategies in combatting youth unemployment, which reached 26.4% in April 2018, according to the National Statistics Office. The September 2018 cycle of vocational training offered 400,000 posts across 478 specialisations. The ministry has focused on diversifying and expanding its establishments to the extent that the 2018/19 cycle saw the addition of 54 new specialisations and 67 new establishments for vocational training.

In order to bring the training of education staff up to an international standard, Algerian officials and Swiss entrepreneurs met in June 2018 regarding the development of professional training in Algeria. The newly created Algerian-Swiss Business Club, established in April 2018, aims to combine the Swiss model of vocational training, which contributes to the low unemployment rate of 3%, with Algerian stakeholders to support companies from both nations in expanding and improving teacher training.

Foreign Private Institutions

In the lower education segment, of the 380 nationally accredited private schools, a small number of international schools have started to emerge in urban centres. This emerging international education offering include the American International School of Algiers, which opened in 2016, as well as two French schools that have been recognised by the Agency for French Education Abroad, Lycée International Alexandre Dumas (LIAD) and the Hydra School, both of which are in Algiers. The LIAD has expanded its operations in recent years, opening two new satellite campuses, one in Oran in December 2017 and one in Annaba in May 2018. In addition, a range of unofficial private institutions have emerged in both the lower and higher segments of the education sector as a result of the growing demand for marketable skills that the public structures do not accommodate for.

“There are 100 new private educational institutions opening every year, both schools themselves and private institutions to help students after school,” Flora Stienne, country director of EF Education First, an international education company, told OBG. “This is starting to become a lucrative trend as people are losing confidence in public schools; however, there are no official private school standards, so quality can be very different from one to another.”

The lack of a regulatory framework for private lower education institutions has been addressed to a certain extent at the higher education level. Nine private institutes of higher education have been officially recognised by the MESRS so far, though not all of these establishments are currently open to students. However, private tertiary education establishments can only be legally authorised by Algerian nationals holding a doctorate or assistant professorship and with 10 or more years experience in the higher education sector. These private institutions must also abide by the 51:49 capital share rule required for joint-stock companies. Foreign direct investment has also been restricted to the extent that the establishment of a foreign institute of higher education must be ratified by an accord between the Algerian government and officials from the country in question.

E-Learning

E-learning initiatives have advanced significantly as institutions and companies seek to overcome budgetary constraints while providing quality education and training services for students and employees. On the public side, the National Centre for Professional Distance Education (Centre National de la Formation et de l’Enseignement Professionnels à Distance, CNEPD) became one of the first public institutions in the country to set up an e-learning platform in January 2018. Aimed at individuals seeking to expand their professional and technical competences, the CNEPD e-learning platform expands educational opportunities to individuals with physical or geographical constraints.

The Algerian e-learning platform BeeForm launched in November 2017 with the aim of providing companies and public institutions with digital tools for training on a mass level. Among the first signatories of agreements with BeeForm were institutions from both the public and private sectors including the public universities School of Commercial High Studies and Research Centre for Scientific and Technical Information, as well as local IT consultancy COSOFT Group and Algerian cloud services provider ISSAL, among other private firms. The Tipaza Smart City project has also signed an agreement with BeeForm.

Industry-Academia Collaboration

The state has also sought to collaborate with private industrial players in order to reinforce and complement public programmes in vocational training. In the last decade over 13,000 agreements between industry and academic institutions have been signed, resulting in the training of 650,000 new workers. In October 2018 Huawei Algeria signed cooperation agreements with the MESRS and two public universities to establish an academy of excellence, which is scheduled to commence operations in November 2019. Huawei Algeria seeks to foster the development of the country’s ICT ecosystem and intends to build 30 further academies of excellence in the next three years in collaboration with the MESRS to train university students in the latest technological innovations.

Outlook

As the MEN reforms the underpinnings of the education system, increasing population and urbanisation rates are poised to continue to put pressure on the public education system for the foreseeable future. With 29.3% of the population currently under the age of 14, providing quality teaching to rising numbers of students will challenge the educational infrastructure in the coming decades.

The state is beginning to officially authorise the establishment of private higher education institutions. As they grow they will likely become increasingly important in relieving public resources as enrolment numbers increase in line with the growing younger population. If investors are willing to go through the accreditation procedure enforced by the state, there are significant opportunities to be had in the private sector. In the short term the arena of vocational education is also particularly promising as the state seeks to forge relationships with local industry players to create training programmes to improve youth unemployment rates and address pressing market needs.

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The Report: Algeria 2018

Health & Education chapter from The Report: Algeria 2018

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