Despite strained public finances, the Ministry of National Education (Ministère de l’Education Nationale, MEN) has maintained its commitment to improving the standard of education provided to Algerian citizens. Public schooling is free and obligatory up to the lower secondary level, and additional assistance is provided to impoverished families, all of which has contributed to the country’s high enrolment rates. According to the most recent figures from the World Bank, the gross primary school enrolment rate was 116% in 2015 – signalling that a number of children are made to repeat school years – while the rate for lower secondary was 99% in 2011.
Tertiary education is developing rapidly, following the government opening up markets to private sector participation. Indeed, private players have been important partners for the Ministry of Training and Professional Teaching (Ministère de la Formation et de l’Enseignement Professionel, MFEP), helping to modernise training programmes that cover highly sought-after professions in the labour market.
Over the past year Nouria Benghabrit-Remaoun, the minister of national education, has assured the public that the financial crisis will not affect education. The government followed through on these promises, allocating AD746.3bn (€6.2bn) for education in the 2017 Finance Law, accounting for 16.2% of the total. Benghabrit-Remaoun has sought to make sector administration more efficient, outlining a lean operational budget for the ministry – a necessary measure given that teacher salaries took up 85% of the education budget in 2017. In the 2018 Finance Law the allocation for the MEN was downsized to AD709.6 (€5.9bn), though the budget for Higher Education and Scientific Research was raised to AD313.3bn (€2.60bn) from AD310.8 (€2.57bn) in 2017.
The public school system is split into three levels: primary, which lasts for five years; followed by four years of lower secondary; and three optional years of upper secondary. Basic education, defined as primary and lower secondary school, is mandatory for all Algerians. It has been estimated that 4.3m students will attend primary school in the 2017/18 school year, with 2.8m students in lower secondary and 1.2m in upper secondary.
At the end of each level of schooling, students take a completion exam. The 2016/17 academic year saw the success rate for the primary school completion exam reach 89.3%, which was an increase of 10 points from the year prior. The pass rate for the lower secondary exam was substantially lower, at 56.3%. The rate is similar for Algeria’s baccalaureate, the exam given at the end of upper secondary school where a passing mark is needed to enter tertiary education. Of the 750,000 students who took the baccalaureate in the 2016/17 academic year, 56.1% passed, which was an improvement of 6.3 points on the previous year. Mathematics had the highest success rate of any subject, at 68.7%.
Major reforms to public education were implemented in 2003: new teaching methods were introduced, curriculum was restructured and the teaching language was switched from French to Modern Standard Arabic. Despite these efforts, the 2015 UN special rapporteur on education concluded that the quality of education in Algeria remains low, citing inadequate teacher training and overcrowding of schools as the main factors hampering education.
The country has a multilingual history, and the official language has been Arabic since its independence, though the government added Tamazight – a native language for Berber populations – as an official language in 2015. Public schooling for the most part is taught in Modern Standard Arabic, even though most children do not speak it at home. Lessons in Tamazight are rare, for instance in the Tipasa wilaya (province) there were only 200 students out of 80,000 registered for classes in Tamazight in 2017.
Once the standard language in education, French continues to be taught in schools and is a subject in the primary school completion exams. Additionally, French is used for the majority of university subjects outside of law, politics and religion, and it continues to be the language of the business community and elites in Algeria. This poses problems for the new generation of students who have completed their basic education in Arabic. “There is still high demand for French. Currently, students in public schools study in Arabic, and don’t read or write in French. However, when they arrive at university, most of the time the teaching is in French, so suddenly they must learn both the subject and a new language,” Flora Stienne, country director for Education First, an international company providing language training, told OBG.
Recently, a fourth language has made its way into the education debate. Over the past two years the minister of national education has advocated for the use of Derija in primary schools, a proposition which has received strong backlash from religious leaders and Arabic proponents. Derija is the native language for most Algerians, combining elements of Arabic, Berber and French. It remains to be seen whether a shift away from Modern Standard Arabic is feasible.
The government is working to improve the quality of English language teaching, in large part through the implementation of a “Marshall Plan for English”, which focuses on working more deeply with foreign actors. “English is new for Algeria, it really is a big change. Now English is the first foreign language to be learned in the country,” Stienne told OBG.
At the moment there is high demand for qualified teachers and a deficit of native English speakers in the sector, which is further hindered by the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security refusing to recognise the English Language Teaching certificate, a global accreditation that many native English speakers obtain to teach overseas. However, there are signs of progress, with the first US school opening in Algeria in 2016, coming after five years of negotiations between the US Department of State and the Algerian government. For the time being the American International School of Algiers offers kindergarten to grade six, but it has plans to eventually become a full K-12 school.
Plan Of Action
Under the leadership of Benghabrit-Remaoun, the MEN launched a plan of action for 2016-19 to pursue a holistic approach – based on quality and pedagogy – to restructure and improve the sector. The plan has eight axes: equity, apprenticeships for teacher training, coverage of extracurricular activities, transparency in sector management, professionalisation of human resources, reinforcement of mediation and dialogue, pedagogical methods employed across all levels, and a new system of evaluation and grading for students. Other longer-term priorities include improving language education in primary schools, redesigning the grading system, modernising administrative management and digitising the sector. In the short term there will be new school manuals adopted in 2018/19 to update the curriculum.
To achieve the ministry’s goal of providing a higher standard of teaching that is inclusive for all students, consultations were held with teachers from across a diverse range of wilayas in 2016. These consultations, which sought to evaluate teaching methods and identify areas of concern, found that many teachers called for significant grading system reforms. As such, a new system based on international criteria was created and will be adopted in the 2017/18 school year, with pedagogical methods in public education taking on a more analytical approach to learning. Benghabrit-Remaoun has called on teachers to move beyond recitation of course material and instead encourage students to practise their own critical thinking skills.
There has also been recognition of the importance of extracurricular and cultural activities in public schooling, with civic education and environmental subjects in particular gaining momentum. For example, the ministry has begun an initiative that encourages schools to organise votes for student leaders, in order to promote a sense of democracy and civic participation among the youth.
In 2002 the MEN signed an agreement with the Ministry of Environment to integrate environmental education into the curriculum. Its course for the 2017/18 year is called “Eco-citizens”. Over the years the initiative has raised the awareness of environmental issues in schools; there are now approximately 267,000 students participating in activities at more than 12,000 eco-clubs run through schools.
Over 36,000 new teachers have been recruited to start in the 2017/2018 school year, coming on top of a year of mass hiring; 93,000 new teachers were hired in 2016. While 99% of teachers at public schools have at least a secondary school degree, many new teachers lack the practical skills and hands-on experience necessary to succeed in the classroom. In September 2017 Mohamed Mebarki, the minister of vocational education and training, announced two new teaching diplomas that will involve a greater degree of work experience than what has previously been offered in traditional courses. These new diplomas will place a greater focus on social skills, equipping teachers with pedagogical methods and classroom management tools. Training workshops have also been held ahead of the implementation of the new national school manuals, an important part of the government’s ongoing efforts to keep school courses and teaching methods up to date.
In response to calls from the People’s National Assembly in the summer of 2017, the government announced the rapid construction and launch of new public schools, which will begin taking on students as soon as 2018. A total of 420 new public schools were built in 2017, which will raise overall student capacity by 9000. These additions will bring the total number of public schools in Algeria to 26,669.
On top of free education, the government extends financial support of AD3000 (€24.88) to students from impoverished families to help cover extra schooling costs. Approximately 3.4m primary school students benefitted from the national canteen programme in 2015, a scheme that is still in operation, serviced via more than 14,500 canteens. As another means of reducing costs for low-income households, some 4m students receive free school books.
The Ministry of Health, Population and Hospital Reform has deployed more than 2000 health screening and monitoring units at health facilities and schools, with the objective of improving health and promoting preventive care across all levels of school, including tertiary. These units screen for health conditions, treat and manage any detected issues, teach health education to children, carry out vaccination programmes and help ensure that there are proper hygiene practices at schools.
Inequalities in education are a key challenge, as poor coordination in education infrastructure has reduced the effectiveness of government investments. An example of wasteful resource allocation is a primary school built in 2008 in Douaouda, in the north of the country, but was closed relatively soon after due to a lack of students, even though nearby schools have reported overcrowded classrooms. There are also staffing distribution issues, and some wilayas have a deficit of teachers, especially in mathematics and physics. To address this, the MEN announced in August 2017 that they will be using a new system for teacher hiring, which utilises national recruitment lists to better allocate teachers to underserved areas that are most in need.
Alongside increasing numbers of students in primary schools, caused by Algeria’s recent baby boom, overcrowding classrooms have become a concern. The MEN has estimated that 5.7% of classes are too full. These schools are most often located in peri-urban areas, where birth rates are exceptionally high. The ministry has acknowledged that there is an urgent need to address the problem, however a strategy has yet to be announced.
The gender distribution in schools is fairly even. At the primary school level 48% of students taking the completion exam were girls. For the baccalaureate level, this ratio increased to 55% of the cohort. More significantly, the pass rate for female students was 65%, beating the overall pass rate of 56%. Despite positive results at school, female participation in the labour market remains low, at just 17% in 2017.
There are 50 universities in Algeria, with a collective 1.7m students. To cope with increasing enrolment rates – which rose by 10 percentage points in 2017 – the Ministry of Higher Education has invested in multiple projects to expand the capacity of the tertiary system, with 4000 new spots expected to open at universities in the 2017/18 academic year. The government invested AD7bn (€58m) in the University of Algiers 2 complex in Algiers, which is 90% complete and due to be finished by the end of 2017. Another large university is under construction in the city of Sidi Abdallah in the north-east of the country, which is expected to have a capacity of 20,000 students and 11,000 beds upon completion.
The ministry is also working to improve public libraries. A new library at Kharoub University with a capacity of 250 people has recently been finished, while a AD140m (€1.2m) library in Kouba is also in the process of being built.
The vocational training segment has seen impressive growth, with the establishment of new public and private training centres. This partly stems from the government prioritising the segment as a vital component of its strategy to decrease youth unemployment. In September 2017 there were two new diplomas in education introduced, as well as a handful of other new specialties including digitisation, renewable energies and the installation of telephones. These courses will be taught starting in the 2018/19 academic year.
Looking further ahead, the MFEP has announced plans to expand training in targeted sectors, primarily focusing on tourism, textiles and electronics. This will involve partnerships with major economic players in each sector, in order to provide students with real work experience. It is hoped that such partnerships will also assist young people in securing employment once they have finished their training. Indeed, in 2016 approximately 60% of apprentices were recruited by the companies that trained them.
The MFEP has placed a strong emphasis on apprenticeships in response to a rise in demand from Algeria’s youth. In February 2017 it was reported that 58.6% of students registered for vocational training had requested apprenticeships. The ministry is now aiming for apprenticeship training to represent at least 60% of vocational training in the 2018/19 academic year. “In this period of rationalisation of state spending, this is the least expensive form of training,” Mebarki told local press in February 2017. In 2016 firms provided 80% of this type of training, with training centres providing the rest. According to Mebarki, the government is working to increase the number of these opportunities even further.
Partnerships with the private sector will be a central part of aligning apprenticeship programmes with the business and labour demands of the economy. To meet rising tourism needs, a collaborative agreement was signed between the MFEP and the Ministry of Tourism in 2017 for more training partnerships to take place in the sector. This will include new apprenticeships in a range of segments, including cooking, services, human resources and engineering.
More than half of the 1228 accredited training centres in Algeria are private, and the private sector collectively had 23,000 enrolled students in 2016. “The private sector is a large actor in professional training, especially in tertiary sectors such as human resources,” Mourad Belhoul, general manager of CESI, a private professional training centre that has been operating in Algiers since 2003, told OBG. Recognising the importance of the private sector in vocational training, the government has encouraged private players to establish educational centres outside of large cities.
New courses, particularly those offered by the private sector, are placing greater emphasis on soft skills in response to market needs. “The most common type of training that is demanded by businesses is for managerial competencies. This can be management of a logistics chain or management of people,” Belhoul told OBG. While human resource structures in Algeria have made considerable progress in recent years, they lag behind international norms. However, Algerian companies are gradually coming to realise the importance of soft skills. “If we look at the success of large groups, the enterprises that have experienced the highest growth rates are recruiting with quality managerial skills in mind,” Belhoul told OBG. In addition, CESI has found that training courses in health, security and environment fields within the oil sector are increasingly popular, while training courses that cover integrated management systems have seen rising enrolment rates as well. This was indeed confirmed in the OBG Business Barometer: Algeria CEO Survey, released in November 2017, where 37% respondents said leadership was the skill most in need (see Business Barometer: CEO Survey).
In Algeria there is a system of financing for professional training; however, this funding can only be distributed by companies. To ensure training takes place, the Algerian government has introduced punitive measures in the form of taxes as a way to encourage enterprises to invest in the training of staff. Businesses are required to spend the equivalent of 1% of their salary costs on professional training. If they fail to do so, they are obligated to pay that amount via a tax.
The so-called brain drain phenomenon is particularly pronounced in certain sectors, such as health care, as well as the technical fields of IT and computer science. A huge number of qualified Algerians in these areas seek work abroad, resulting in a deficit in the domestic labour market. “We would say that around 50% of computer science students try to go abroad after their studies,” Belhoul told OBG. In the medical field, the Council of Doctors in Algeria has estimated that there are approximately 13,500 Algerian doctors working in France.
The stability of the education budget in the face of strained public finances is encouraging for long-term growth prospects. The government’s push to raise the quality of education in its current action plan will be crucial to addressing ongoing concerns, though the issues surrounding languages in the classroom look set to continue. In terms of university education, efforts to revise regulations should further open the door to private sector players. Meanwhile, the professional training sector is likely to remain dynamic. Although the labour market is lacking in managerial and other soft skills, this leaves a gap to be filled, in turn presenting new opportunities, while financial incentives for businesses investing in the training of staff will ensure a steady level of demand.
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