Following through on the implementation of its reform plans, Algeria continues to put a strong emphasis on improving provision of education across the country. A decade has passed since the beginning of the educational reform, and authorities are now cementing new practices and aiming to understand which elements need further work. Efforts are now targeted at improving the quality of teaching by enhancing learning conditions. This has been translating into higher standards of national teaching programmes as well as better trained staff. But authorities are also increasingly taking into account the importance of good infrastructure as well the strengthening of governance practices within the sector’s institutions.
The transition that the Algerian education sector is currently attempting is also the result of the country’s evolution since independence in 1962. “After independence, quality was an issue, but the real goals were related to quantitative standards. We mainly wanted to put as many children into the schooling system as possible. Now we need to take care of the quality of teaching. Significant infrastructure was built both for primary as well as secondary schooling, and we are completely revising the preparation that teachers need,” Samia Mezaib, deputy-director for evaluation at the Ministry of Education, told OBG.
Investment Versus Performance
Numbers continue to form part of the equation. The country’s young population has been consistently feeding a high rate of enrolment, increasing pressure on both physical infrastructure as well as human resources (HR). The government has responded with budget increases and a focus on adding capacity.
For the 2009-14 five-year plan, authorities channelled funds for renewal of infrastructure. A total of AD852bn (€7.9bn) went to the national education sector, which encompasses primary and secondary school. The funds were directed at the construction of new schools, namely 3000 primary schools, 1000 middle schools and over 800 high schools across the country.
Higher up, the tertiary education sector budget also underlined governmental commitment to increasing the capacity in national universities. The sector received AD868bn (€8.1bn) to be used for the creation of 600,000 additional university student places and the building of off-campus dormitories to house some 400,000 students. A renewed focus has also gone into the structuring and financing of the vocational training sector. The emphasis on new infrastructure remains a government priority, although the construction of certain facilities has been delayed in some provinces. The 2015-19 five-year plan is expected to continue a strong emphasis on public investment into education.
The quality of Algeria’s primary education was ranked 121st among 144 countries assessed by the World Economic Forum in it “Global Competitiveness Report 2014-15”. This is below neighbouring Tunisia at 72nd or Morocco at 105th. The country fared considerably better in terms of primary school enrolment rates, ranking 41st, compared to 39th for Morocco and 13th in Tunisia.
The sector has been driven by growth in enrolment. Since independence, the number of students attending primary and middle school has increased 10-fold, jumping from 800,000 in 1962 to 8.6m in 2014, according to figures by the Ministry of Education. Enrolment rates for children between six and 16 years of age has risen from 88% in 2000 to over 96% today. These figure also point to the challenges the sector is facing, namely adequate infrastructure and HR, as education authorities expect the number of students to reach 11m by 2030. This will demand an accelerated process of matching resources for the state to continue providing education services with the huge rise in demand.
Primary and secondary education in Algeria are compulsory, and large part of government efforts over the years has been to establish the legal framework to enforce this. Primary school begins at six years of age and lasts five years. This is followed by four years of middle school. In 2008 a reform package reduced primary schooling to five years, instead of six, which compounded overcrowding problems at a number of schools in the country.
The past few years have also seen the use of legal instruments to increase enrolment rates. Year-long expulsions of pupils from schools have been banned, and a system of fines was implemented in 2010 for parents that do not ensure their children attend school. For the 2014/15 school year, 8.6m students were enrolled in primary, middle and high school education.
Despite being public and free, some economic inequalities still arise in the public system due to the differential learning pace between students that attend preschool and those who do not. To solve this issue, the Ministry of Education has mooted the possibility of generalising preschool to ensure that students reach primary school with similar experiences and a common learning background. To complement free schooling, authorities have continued support for low-income students. Annual funds are channelled through the Ministry of Social Action and National Solidarity to support a one-off payment for school books and materials for low-income students.
Prime de scolarité is a subsidy valued at AD3000 (€28) per student, and according to government figures, some 4m students received this type of government support at the beginning of the 2013/14 academic year.
Primary and secondary schooling fall under the management of the Ministry of Education, which is complemented regionally by ministerial offices in each wilaya (province). However, application of directives in the field is sometimes difficult, which has led authorities to increase training for educational staff to better manage the system across Algeria’s vast territory.
One important change that has already arisen from the reform process is the inclusion of stakeholders in planning educational improvements. In 2013 the Ministry of Education met with the National Federation of Student Parent Associations (Fédération Nationale des Associations des Parents d’Élèves, FNAPE) for the first time, in the hope of extending the discussion of sector improvement. Reform has also shed light on school programme review, aiming to switch the focus of student strengths from learning goals towards competencies and knowledge application.
An important part of the ongoing education reform process has been to improve the quality of teaching. One element of this has been to raise the minimum qualifications for teachers. Primary and secondary school teachers are now required by law to have a four-year degree, while higher education teachers need a master’s degree or higher, plus a practical training period. This has meant significant investment in upgrading the skills of practising professionals, and signifies a transition period for Algeria’s teachers. “The new teachers have a good training level, but not the teaching experience which the older ones have, so this type of intuitive talent for teaching will need years to develop”, Mezaib told OBG.
Training is also under way to improve teachers’ grasp of new communications technologies and incorporate them into teaching methods. Between teaching and administrative staff, the Ministry of Education currently employs 700,000 people, according to local media reports. Nouria Benghebrit, minister of education, has announced that 5000 sector professionals, including 4000 professors, would receive training during 2014.
The five-year plan for 2010-14 included in its priorities the construction of 5000 new schools. This is meant to address the strain that the rising number of students is putting on infrastructure. After the beginning of the 2014/15 academic year FNAPE stated that overcrowding was affecting 4000 schools in Algeria. While fresh public investment is going into the construction of new schools across the country, urban migration is making some facilities obsolete. As more and more Algerians gravitate towards larger urban centres, the falling population of certain villages is also posing a challenge for education authorities in terms of infrastructure and equipment management.
University education is under the remit of the Ministry of Higher Education and Research (Ministère de l’Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche, MESRS), which oversees the country’s 90 universities. Numbers have been rising steadily, with 1.5m university students enrolled in the 2014/15 year, compared to 1.2m in 2011, according to government figures. In response to increased demand, authorities have raised the budget for higher education, which is planned to reach AD300bn (€2.8bn) in 2015, a step up from the AD270bn (€2.5bn) allocated in 2014.
A joint effort by the EU and the Algerian government is funnelling €38.6m to improve tertiary education in the country, €21.5m provided by the EU and the remaining €17.1m by the Algerian government. The Support Programme for Higher Education and Research Policy (Programme d’Appui à la Politique Sectorielle de l’ Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche Scientifique, PAPS-ESRS) began work in 2010, with the aim of modernising university education in Algeria. The cooperation agreement is set to run until the end of 2015 and focus on institutional support to improve the legal framework of the sector, develop partnerships between local and international universities and establish a direct link between higher education institutions and enterprises. PAPS-ESRS is also helping to support implementation of the licence-master-doctorate structure and link it with the businesses’ workforce demands.
Despite a rise in the budget going towards higher education, there is little emphasis on developing public research capabilities. The Directorate General for Scientific Research and Technological Development, which manages research activities under the MESRS is set to receive just AD207.7m (€1.9m) for 2015, according to government figures. However, government funding for research is also channelled through other avenues. Mustapha Benbada, the minister of commerce, recently announced an AD1.2bn (€11.2m) investment to equip 28 new laboratories. According to local media reports, Algeria allocates 0.63% of GDP for research and innovation.
Part of the problem is putting in place the right incentives to attract students to research and innovation disciplines. Despite rising GDP per capita figures, efforts to diversify business activities and expand employment have been constrained by a number of factors. This is driven partly by excessive bureaucracy, but also by the fact that the economy remains heavily dependent on hydrocarbons exports. Although this has seen per capita GDP rise over the years, it has meant that the Algerian economy remains rigid in terms of its scope of activities and job opportunities. The number of students enrolled in exact sciences and technology degree courses decreased from 26,075 in 2010 to 14,639 in 2011, representing just 5.9% of all university students, according to government figures. This is in stark opposition to the number of students enrolled in human sciences courses for that year, which accounted for 45% of all university enrolments.
The emergence of a private education sector has accelerated over the past decade, in part driven by the state’s Arabisation policies which have focused at increasing the role of Arabic in society in general and public education in particular.
Private providers of primary and middle school education have multiplied over the years, often catering to parents who wish to enrol their children under the French system of teaching. In 2004 the government decreed that 90% of the teaching curriculum would be taught in Arabic, though in deference to public sentiment, the state continues to authorise a number of private institutions to use French as the main language of tuition as longs as these schools follow the standard Algerian education curriculum.
In the tertiary sector, authorities limited the surge of private universities by restricting their activities to technical diplomas, taking two years, or to offer higher degrees in conjunction with foreign institutions. These institutions are generally under the Ministry of Training and Professional Education (Ministère de la Formation et de l’Enseignement Professionnels, MFEP), but their degrees are not recognised as university degrees by the state, leaving students barred from working in the public sector. The MESRS is considering a bill to authorise private tertiary institutions to have full university status. A system allowing the operation of private universities and implementing high standards for tertiary studies might prove to be a good way to boost the quality of education and allow the private sector to strengthen university teaching.
Meanwhile, the demand for private English-language schools has increased over the past decade. “The expansion of private sector and corporate activity has led to higher demand for English-language instruction, and a rise in accredited language centres,” Hacène Chaib, general manager of Algerian Learning Centre, a network of private English schools, told OBG.
Closer cooperation between government institutions and companies in different sectors are also helping to improve vocational training and technical education. Overseen by the MFEP, the sector has been the recipient of increased government attention over the past few years. Under the 2010-14 five-year plan, the government allocated AD178bn (€1.7bn) to vocational training, which was channelled to infrastructure modernisation and the construction of 220 institutes, 58 vocational boarding schools and 82 training centres. More investment is expected to flow into the sector through the 2015-19 five-year plan, which the government has said will continue to support training and education.
There are currently 1207 training and support institutions under the ministry offering more than 400 courses. They have been a useful way for Algeria to tackle unemployment, especially following increased efforts to link development of technical skills with job placement through the signing of cooperation agreements with firms in various sectors (see analysis).
Companies and business associations in industry, agriculture, tourism, construction, mechanical engineering and pharmaceuticals are receiving an increasing number of vocational students from Algeria’s skills institutes. By focusing the scope of training programmes on the sectors that have been deemed strategic by Algerian authorities, vocational training programmes are becoming more productive for the country’s young population. In December 2013, as an effort to update skills for professionals already in the job market, the government increased the maximum age for technical apprenticeships from 30 to 35 years of age.
Efforts to increase the employability of young Algerians is also being driven by a government focus on financing entrepreneurship through access to credit. Unemployment for nationals between 16 and 24 years of age stood at 24.8% as of January 2014, according to the National Office of Statistics. Besides improving education and technical improvement programmes, authorities are also helping young entrepreneurs to create their own businesses.
According to government figures, of the 256,000 small businesses created between 2010 and 2013, a total of 174,324 benefitted from support from the Agency for Support of Youth Employment, which since 1996 has established a financing instrument for new projects up to a maximum of €92,500. However, the effectiveness of the financing scheme, which has seen applications rise particularly quickly over the past four years, has been questioned. International media reports have put the percentage of unpaid loans from recipients of this scheme at some 60%. The authorities have understood the need to improve the structuring of government financing schemes for young entrepreneurs in order to improve the effectiveness of the programme. In September 2014 the MEFP announced a change in the way financing for entrepreneurs is allocated, establishing a rule that only graduates with a study diploma in the specific activity they want to establish a business will be eligible for financing.
But Algeria’s employment problems go beyond preparation. Despite the relatively high GDP per person employed, ranking second in the continent after South Africa, according to a recent report by consultancy PwC, titled Africa Gearing Up, institutional blockage and inefficiencies in the economy continue to prevent more job creation and a better performance of labour markets. Although employment outcomes can be improved with investment in education, a challenging business environment does more to hinder employment figures by blocking private initiative than any ill-structuring of the current public education system.
Algeria’s education system is battling the effects of demography, which is raising demand for education at all levels. Expansion of infrastructure and continued teacher training should help to improve standards. While strengthening the quality of education is sure to improve the chances of finding a job for more of the country’s rising number of graduates, this will probably not be enough to ensure they are adequately absorbed into the labour market.
Measures such as effective financing for entrepreneurs and the creation of better links with the private sector to encourage internships for students and graduates will only work if the private sector is able to expand without excessive bureaucracy. Promoting a better environment for the country’s industries will speed job creation as demand for skilled workers grows.
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