Young Algerians will soon be taught English at primary school after President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced that he was adding the language to the curriculum in response to growing demands from academics and students.
Arabic and Tamazight are the official languages of Algeria but French, the language of the country’s former colonial ruler, is widely spoken in households and institutions.
In an interview recorded by state-run television on Sunday, Mr Tebboune suggested the move to more English was part of Algeria’s attempt to divest itself of a painful past.
“French is a spoil of war, but English is an international language,” he said, the BBC reported.
Algeria was a French colony for 132 years and gained independence only in 1962 after an eight-year war that claimed the lives of between 400,000 and a million Algerians.
Last month, Algeria celebrated 60 years of independence from the EU member state with a huge military parade.
Under the country’s present curriculum, English is offered at secondary school to pupils from the age of 14, while schoolchildren start French when they are nine years old.
Students have campaigned to have English taught earlier because as it is the language of teaching in medical and engineering courses at university.
The move away from French as the main foreign language has been brewing in Algeria for several decades amid continued sensitivities in Algerian society over the use of the language of its former coloniser.
In the 1990s an initiative for parents to be able to choose between French and English for their children at junior school was quashed after pressure from a pro-French lobby in the Algerian government, which at the time led to the firing of the education minister.
But in 2019, the Algerian Higher Education Minister Tayeb Bouzid announced that “the French language does not get us anywhere” and ordered the country’s universities and higher education institutes to use English rather than French.
Algerians make up one of the largest minority groups in France. According to 2017 figures, about 23,000 Algerians studied in France, the third-largest foreign student community in the country. But since then, France has reduced the number of visas granted to Algerians and certain other nationalities.
Mr Tebboune’s plans to expand the of teaching English into primary schools are part of the country’s wider move to replace French with Arabic on official documents and to become more anglophone.