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Citizenship Education in Algeria

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Citizenship Education in Algeria

Chada El Islam Manel Benmahcene

/ 7 Minuten zu lesen

Learn about the situation of Citizenship Education in Algeria with a focus on the definition, the ecosystem of non-formal CE, the legal environment as well as on stakeholders and challenges. To understand the impact of the informal ecosystem in Algeria, a short review of the history is mandatory.

Algeria (© bpb)

1. Background Information

Since the official establishment of the ‘Algerian State’, after the independence from French colonists in 1962, the government along with the Ministry of Education has focused on formalizing citizenship education in Algeria. However, there is also an informal type of citizenship education, in which the youth derives the values of citizenship from other institutions outside of the formal educational institutions. These informal institutions are mosques, civil associations and programs provided by the youth houses, and in a certain era in Algeria ‘football stadiums’. There are even some football club songs, which have been turned into political patriotic songs, as a form of expression. In fact, some of these songs have sparked the recent February movement, in 2019, led mainly by the youths themselves.

To understand the impact of the informal ecosystem in defining citizenship education in Algeria, a short review of the history is imperative.

Algeria, unlike any other North African country, has had a strong, and also long, history of colonialism. It is a history that has affected the entire sociology as well as the anthropology of the Algerian community for many years, even after independence. An entire 132 years of colonialism have made a mark on how identity is determined and shaped in Algeria.

In fact, throughout these long years of colonialism the French made it a point to disassociate the Algerian society from their own identity. Colonialism closed Arabic schools, banned Islamic education, and tried to stop the religious celebrations of the communities from happening too often throughout the year.

Hence, during that period, informal citizenship education was the only pillar which society could rely on to keep its identity. Throughout these long years of impactful role, the informal institutions became increasingly strong, and played a huge role in confirming this identity and keeping it in place. In particular, during colonialism, the association of the Muslim Oulama played an important role in keeping alive the Islamic religious values and the Arabic language. The National Muslim Scouts continued doing so afterwards. In fact, the mosques and the zawayas have also contributed significantly to preserving the identity of the people.

After more than a century of colonialism, twenty-two young individuals4 launched the revolution which led the way towards independence, and this occurred thanks to the informal schooling in nationalism.

The same system of relying on the informal citizenship-education system, has continued since independence. This is due especially to the fact that the focus during the 60s was more on building the nation and getting back the political and economic stability of the country, rather than on developing a strong formal educational system.

A few years later, during the 70s, with the rise of the Arab nationalism wave, the focus shifted towards building a strong educational system, rooted in the Arab identity. This process relied heavily on Arab teachers coming from Egypt, Iraq and other Arab nations to teach Algerians in all three phases of primary, middle and secondary school. As a result, formal citizenship education played a significant role in reinforcing the ties Algeria had with its sister Arab countries, and it stressed the idea that the fate of all these countries was in fact one. Houari Boumedian, the Algerian president at the time, reflected this ideology both internally and externally in his foreign policy, along with the other Arab leaders following Nasser’s Pan-Arabism ideology. The ideology was fostered in the formal citizenship education curriculum at that time, and was reflected especially in a series of related events, such as the merger attempts between Arab countries (Libya, Egypt, Syria and Sudan), as well as the Arab-Israeli war in 1976.

Afterwards, and with the world economic recession in the 1980s, youth and the general population in Algeria had more to worry about, namely ‘How to get their daily bread’. The following decade, Algeria witnessed a brutal civil war which caused all civic engagement principles to flee the minds of the youth and to be left no more than ink on paper in the school books.

Due to this lengthy civil war from 1991 to 2000, many young, brilliant individuals fled the country, the economic situation worsened, unemployment rate rose exponentially, and schools gradually grew empty.

Once the civil war ended, and the law of national reconciliation came into being, the Algerian country and Algerian nationalism revived somewhat. Hence, citizenship education was again re-owned by the formal education system. However, during this era, a new player was added to the ecosystem of informal citizenship education. Youth has started to get more involved in civic associations to serve the communities around them, and they started singing political songs in football stadiums, to voice their political opinions. Hence, during the first two decades of 2000, both civic association and football stadiums have now been added to the list of strong players in the ecosystem of informal citizenship education and nationalism in Algeria.

Lastly, when the February movement took place last year, on that day of 22 February 2019, a whole new era of nationalism came into being. Unlike the Arab spring, it was not caused by the sudden wave of desire for democracy, but was rather a result of an accumulation of several occurrences in which the civil rights of Algerian individuals were violated. Moreover, the movement’s demonstrations were fueled by the practicality and the enthusiasm of the songs coming from the football stadiums. Every Tuesday and Friday, young members of civic associations were those who monitored and moderated these demonstrations in the streets.

2. Definition of Citizenship Education

Formally, ‘Citizenship education’ is a school subject designed for both primary and middle school students aged 6 to 15 years old. The course contains modules to inform the youth from an early age about their rights and their duties within the society, such as: voting, belonging to an association, participating in groups and expressing their opinions. The course also aims to give an understanding of the official institutions of the country, and how the country operates, and the laws that govern it. Students get a chance to know more about the constitution, the people’s identity and ways of getting involved in civic life.

On the other hand, while Algerian schools have been the source of formal education for citizenship education, there are also many informal institutions in Algeria which have been framing the meaning of citizenship for individuals for a very long time. Some might argue that in school children only learn about citizenship theoretically, and that realistically they learn and practice it elsewhere. The source of true values of civism has varied throughout the history of Algeria.

3. Ecosystem of Non-formal Citizenship Education

So, throughout the history of Algeria, clearly the informal system of citizenship education was that which had the most impact. The formal educational system on the other hand had a minimal impact in this regard in the overall history of the country, and mainly only during the 70s. It was really the informal institutions and ecosystem, from associations and mosques to scouts and football stadiums, to finally the streets where civism in Algeria really had a true impact.

4. Legal Environment

Today, in legislation, the Algerian constitution has not formalized the definition of citizenship education. Instead they have formalized the participation and the engagement of youth and young individuals in the different state institutions dedicated to empowering and serving the country’s youth, which represents 30% of the overall population. In 2016, the Algerian constitution affirmed the necessity of creating a national council for youth. Such councils would have youth representatives from different provinces, who would present their problems and their aspirations to the country’s leaders, to the government and to the president. One of the main goals of the youth council, as per the constitution, would be to advocate for civic engagement among Algerian youth .

5. Stakeholder and Challenges

These plans face many challenges. Though legislation is in place for the national council of youth, it has not yet taken shape due to the lack of mechanisms for putting it into place. Moreover, one of the main challenges for the curriculum of citizenship education is to find a way for it to be a more practical curriculum, rather than a theoretical one . The effectiveness of the informal ecosystem of citizenship education in Algeria stems from its very closeness to the daily problems of the people, and it finds a way to bring civic engagement into play in a very effective manner. It follows, then, that the formal curriculum of citizenship education needs to be more practical in terms of working and partnering closely with institutions such as scouts, associations and so on. Only then will the desired results be attained.

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