The French colonial education imposed on Algeria was designed primarily to meet the needs of the European population and to perpetuate the European cultural pattern. A large majority of the students were children of the colonists. French was the language of instruction, and Arabic, when taught, was offered as an optional foreign language.
Segregated schooling of French and Algerian children was abolished in 1949, and increases in Muslim enrollments were scheduled in the comprehensive 1954 Constantine Plan to improve Muslim living conditions. On the eve of independence, however, the European-oriented curricula were still taught exclusively in French, and less than one-third of school-age Muslim children were enrolled in schools at the primary level. At the secondary and university levels, only 30 percent and 10 percent of the students, respectively, were Algerians.
At the beginning of the 1963 school year, the education system was in complete disarray, and enrollments in schools at all levels totaled only 850,000. In the years immediately following, teachers were trained hastily or recruited abroad; classrooms were improvised, many in the vacated homes of former French residents. Attendance climbed to 1.5 million in 1967, to nearly 3 million by 1975, and to 6.5 million in 1991-92.
At the time of independence in 1962, the Algerian government inherited the remnants of an education system focused on European content and conducted in a foreign language by foreign teachers. Algerian authorities set out to redesign the system to make it more suited to the needs of a developing nation. The hallmarks of their program were indigenization, arabization, and an emphasis on scientific and technical studies. They sought to increase literacy, provide free education, make primary school enrollment compulsory, remove foreign teachers and curricula, and replace French with Arabic as the medium of instruction. They also planned to channel students into scientific and technical fields, reflecting the needs of Algerian industrial and managerial sectors. The approach to education has been gradual, incremental, and marked by a willingness to experiment--unusual characteristics in a developing country.
The high priority assigned by the government to national education was reflected in the amount of money spent on it and on the existence of free schooling at all levels. Between 1967 and 1979, a total of DA171 billion was allocated for operating expenditures in this sector. In 1985 approximately 16.5 percent of the government's investment budget was devoted to education; in 1990 the education sector received 29.7 percent of the national budget.
Algeria received substantial assistance from the World Bank. Between 1973 and 1980, Algeria contracted five education loan agreements for sums totaling US$276 million. The World Bank has continued to provide funds and technical assistance in connection with a fundamental reform of education, the latest phase of which occurred in 1993. The structure of the existing basic and secondary systems was being revised, and much heavier emphasis was being given to technical and vocational schooling.
In the mid-1970s, the primary and middle education levels were reorganized into a nine-year system of compulsory basic education. Thereafter, on the secondary level, pupils followed one of three tracks--general, technical, or vocational--and then sat for the baccalaureate examination before proceeding to one of the universities, state technical institutes, or vocational training centers, or directly to employment. The process of reorganization was completed only in 1989, although in practice the basic system of schooling remained divided between the elementary level, including grades one to six, and the middle school level of grades seven to nine. Despite government support for the technical training programs meant to produce middle- and higher-level technicians for the industrial sector, a critical shortage remained of workers in fields requiring those technical skills.
The reforms of the mid-1970s included abolishing all private education. Formerly, private education was primarily the realm of foreign institutions and schools often run by Roman Catholic missions. Legislation passed in 1975 stipulated that education was compulsory for nine years between the ages of six and fifteen, and that it would be free at all levels. The Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Higher Education were assigned sole responsibility for providing and regulating the education system.
In 1982 about 4 million pupils were enrolled in the nine-year basic education track at a time when the government claimed 81 percent of all six-year-olds were attending school. Attendance approached 90 percent in urban centers and 67 percent in rural areas. Teachers were nearly all Algerian, and instruction was entirely in Arabic, French being introduced only in the third year.
In the 1991-92 school year, about 5.8 million pupils were enrolled in grades one through nine; and the gross enrollment ratios reached 93 percent for the first six years of school and 75 percent for the next three years. Algerian society in the early 1990s was still not fully accustomed to women assuming roles outside the home, and female enrollments remained slightly lower than might have been expected from the percentage of girls in the age-group.
Secondary enrollments totaled 280,000 in 1982, compared with 51,000 in 1962-63. The number of secondary schools increased from thirty-nine to 319 over the decade, while the percentage of Algerian teachers increased from 41 in 1975 to 71 in 1982. French continued as the favored language of instruction in general, particularly in mathematics and science. Despite these impressive gains, enrollments still fell short of planned targets, especially in scientific and technical fields. The same was true of female education. Nationwide, in 1982 girls accounted for 38.8 percent of total enrollments in secondary and technical schools. A great variation also existed between the number of girls attending school in Algiers, where the percentage nearly equaled that of boys, and Tamanrasset in the south, where the percentage dropped to as low as 7. In 1984 national primary and secondary enrollments totaled 5 million.
In 1989-90, secondary school enrollments comprised 44 percent of the school-age population, or a total of 743,000 students, of whom 22 percent had entered the technicums, or technical high schools. The proportion of girls in that cycle of education was as high as that of the previous phase and constituted 44 percent of total enrollment at the secondary level. Teachers were more than 90 percent Algerian at all levels. Arabization of the education system was considered an important objective of the 1990s.
Vocational education at the secondary level received attention as part of the reorganization of the mid-1970s. The program was designed with the requirements of industry and agriculture in mind; students were to be trained as apprentices for up to five years. As of 1990, a total of 325 vocational training schools were in operation, and about 200,000 apprentices were in training. Vocational skills were also taught as part of the national service program, which provided employment and work experience for large numbers of young men.
The major universities in 1993 were the University of Oran, the University of Science and Technology at Oran, the University of Algiers, and universities at Tlemcen, Sidi Bel Abbes, Constantine, and Annaba and the Houari Boumediene University of Science and Technology. There were also universities of Batna, Blida, Sétif, and Tizi Ouzou and university centers at Bejaïa, Mostaganem, Chelif, and Tiaret. Total higher education enrollment for the academic year 1989-90 was 177,560 students as compared with 103,000 in 1983-84 and close to 8,000 in 1967. Only the Algiers campus predated independence, having been founded in 1909.
The higher education system first adopted by the University of Algiers was based on the French model. As such, it stressed autonomy of the university faculties not only in administration but also in designing curricula and organizing courses of study aimed at particular degrees. The system resulted in unwieldiness, duplication of academic offerings, and complete loss of credits by students changing programs. In addition, it led to a very high attrition rate. Some reforms designed to modernize the university system were introduced in 1971, and major reforms were introduced in 1988. Nevertheless, the universities still loosely resemble the French model, and French remains widely used for instructional purposes. The number of French instructors has declined, however, as the number of Algerian teachers has increased after 1980. In 1981-82, for instance, 64.6 percent of the teachers at all levels of education were Algerian. By the academic year 1990-91, the percentage had increased to 93.4 percent. Arabic was widely taught at the tertiary level, and Zouaouah, the dialect of the Kabyle Berbers, was taught at the University of Tizi Ouzou.
In addition to the universities, a number of state institutes provide specialized technical, agricultural, vocational, and teacher training. Some function under the direct jurisdiction of appropriate ministries and provide one to five years of technical training and job experience for trainees. The Ministry of Energy and Petrochemical Industries and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing each has a number of institutes. Algeria in the early 1990s had more than thirty institutes of higher learning, including technical studies, teacher-training colleges, and Islamic institutes.
Many Algerian students also study abroad. Most go to France or other West European countries, various countries of Eastern Europe, and the United States.
A variety of literacy programs for adults was initiated after 1962, when the national literacy rate was below 10 percent. The Conquest of Literacy program was mounted to help people attain literacy in Arabic or French or both languages. Volunteer teachers held classes on the job, in homes, and in abandoned buildings; old French or Arabic grammars, copies of the Quran, and political tracts were pressed into service as texts. Wide- ranging approaches, including correspondence courses and use of the public media, were introduced during the Second Four-Year Plan, 1974-77. Major responsibility for out-of-school education was assigned to two specialized government agencies. These agencies benefited from technical assistance under the second of the three World Bank education loans, but the main emphasis of the government's education program has been on the rapid development of the formal school system.
Progress in literacy has been noteworthy. About 42 percent of the population was literate in 1977. By 1990 adult literacy had reached 57.4 percent, according to estimates by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); 69.8 percent of Algerian men and 45.5 percent of Algerian women were literate. Because, however, priority has been given to the education of youth, adult illiteracy has not yet received the attention it needs.