It is commonly assumed that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is currently at the core of most reforms related to the teaching and learning process in North African countries which aim to better equip the next generation with 21st-century skills. The challenge of setting up second-generation educational reforms requires a myriad of time, structure, and resources. Driven by a will to enhance educational performances and embrace the digital world, the Ministry of National Education (MoE) in Algeria introduced a new reform program in 2000. Outlining a through plan to underpin the creation of higher educational and technological competencies, for greater accountability and with a vision for increased sustainability for the country. However, the analogy between the use of technology and pedagogical purposes remained considerably disassociated which further widened the gap between the desired outcome and the designed policy (Navia and Velasco, 2003).
This blog post critically discuss the internal and external factors that led to the education reform of 2000 in Algeria. It will then move on to highlight the key barriers. Finally, a set of ideas will be suggested for possible actions in the future.
Contextual Factors Influencing Curricular Reform in Algeria
It has been commonplace to distinguish between “outside” and “inside” factors (Fullen, 2001) of new policies in education. On the one hand, it is reasonable to say that the first is mostly related to the democratisation of education systems as a utopian model for countries like Algeria. Since the final decades of the 20th century, neoliberal ideas have been thought of as the principal actor influencing government impetuous programs to meet high market demand. As such, the new Algerian curriculum was mostly advanced in the form of enhancement and empowerment of educators’ teaching quality and learners’ interpersonal skills with a focus on technical abilities. Similarly, we see evidence of this in the Moroccan and Tunisian reforms too, where quality and accessibility are emphasised in the same respect. Therefore, the apparent implementation neutrality of these reform measures in pedagogy is more likely to look like a call to action (Freire, 1998. Scapp, 2016) to build a neoliberal pedagogy rather than a consolidated political framework relevant to local needs.
Another significant aspect of neoliberal influence in education reforms, is the global competitiveness of the workforce. In relation, an extensive training project across Algeria called “e-Education” was introduced, targeting both administrators and teachers alike (Educ Recherche, 2011). The aim was to equip staff with the right social and professional resources and numerical skills. The training consisted of four modules: basic digital literacy, ICT in use, ICT tools integration, and online education. Consequently, over 50,000 secondary and 102,000 primary teachers were trained between 2001 and 2007 (ibid). In a similar case, but on a smaller scale, the “ICT in education for Iraq” project trained 21e-content developers, 22 core team and 520 teachers (UNESCO Iraq Office). Nevertheless, the MoE strategy in building employees’ capacities failed to attain its primary targets. Teachers for example complained about the lack of time, equipment and ICT techniques in order to adapt the acquired knowledge in class.
One of the current discussions is on the belief of competences influencing the school curriculum (Benadla, 2012). In agreement with this, the establishment of new teaching methods tremendously impacted on teaching and learning practices. Hence the introduction of the Competency Based Approach, known also as the CBA, in most of the taught courses in both primary and secondary schools in Algeria. In 2003, the Ministry of National Education has broadly defined competency-based education as a ‘know-how-to-act process which interacts and mobilizes a set of capacities, skills and an amount of knowledge that will be used effectively in various problem situations or in circumstances that have never occurred before’ (ibid); it is viewed as a “tectonic shift” (Robertson, 2007) from the traditional teaching habits. Correspondingly, in a recent interview by Educ Recherche, LeBrun (2011) pointed out that it is high time for educators to transform traditional teaching methods. He also insisted on the fact that pedagogical reforms and technologies are not just solutions for policy development but necessary tools due to a profound economic, social and political transformation in fast-changing societies. Although this may be true, there is a huge misunderstanding around the practicality of the CBA. As a result, a teacher-centered approach is most likely to be adopted because of large classes.
On the other hand, internal factors contributed also to the new reforms in education. Considerable exposure of Algerian youth to new palm devices, such as smartphones, and the use of Internet have contributed to social transformation. For example, Internet penetration greatly increased from 16.5% in 2013 to 46% in 2015 (ARTP, 2015). Reportedly, a plan to install internet network in every high school was launched jointly by the MoE and Ministry of ICTs. Widely utilized on the World Wide Web, the English language was also presented in different electronic forms. In other word, users found themselves in front of a digital lingua franca that connected them with a wealth of information. In this regard also, and as part of the capacity-building program, more than 1700 secondary school teachers were trained on how to teach English as a foreign language. Although technology and languages are viewed as building blocks of modern societies, young people still use digital tools at their primary level (LeBrun, 2011) and are not comfortable in using foreign language like English, due to a lack of practice.
Enterprise in education is another factor that influenced the Algerian reform of 2000. Although the government spending on education is considerably high, the lack of achieving greater results remains very low. This led, in 2003, to the emergence of new private schools, as a result of neoliberal economic policies. Therefore, it brought a variety of educational institutions, from American international primary schools to Islamic institutes and community schools. Let us take the example of Lebanon, where the private spending is 3 times that of the government (Rugh, 2002). Consequently, there was a mushrooming of privatized educational institutions. Even though the number of private schools is very low compared to state schools, they both were unsuccessful in providing learners with the necessary skills for the world of work. Tied by the free market (Robertson, 2007), educational reforms were not also able to step out the knowledge transfer culture.
Factors Inhibiting the Reform
The following parts of this paper move on to describe dominant forces limiting the deployment of the Algerian second-generation education reform. Although the government invested a huge budget on equipping schools with IT devices such as desktops, only some schools – mostly in the north of the country – had computer laboratories. Thus, lacking access to the machines resulted in teachers abandoning the idea if ICT integration in class. They then were put in a “digital divide” (Tondeur et al, 2016) position. This means that instead of having free access to the IT clusters, they found themselves occasionally granted the place when the session’s main theme was on new technologies only. Furthermore, learners’ exposure to technology, which was restricted to 40 minutes per week, was regarded as inadequate (Dias, 1999; Bessada, 2013). Such limitations would indisputably result in losing most of the invested in knowledge and lacking achievement in relation to the anticipated benefit of investment.
Professional development, as an essential part of the reform chain, was weakened likewise by lack of IT devices. Thus, educators find it hard to put in practice the learned techniques. Even though there are no exact figures on how teachers learn during professional development trainings (Wilson and Berne, 1999), it is important to invest in the right equipment in order to facilitate the integration of ICT in class. According to some critics, “If nationally developed standards are influencing the preparation of new teachers, there would be increased alignment of policies and practice with standards” (Iris et al. 2001). In other words, if educators are provided with the materials that they were trained on, then they are more likely to implement it in their lesson plans.
Whilst ICT integration is an essential component in the Algerian reform, it was not used appropriately by the trainees. The use of information communication and technology allows learners to further develop their core skills. Hence, Dias (1999) suggests that, “technology is integrated when it is used…to support and extend curriculum objectives and to engage students in meaningful learning”. It is therefore essential to consider using either the PITICK (Pedagogical Technology Integrated Content Knowledge) (Dias, 1999) or TPACK (Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge) (Herring, Mishra and Koehler, 2006) framework in order to enhance students’ skills. The need to maximize the contact and use of devices, such as tablets, in class is as important as the need to design pedagogical content that matches the learning outcomes. There are five stages to technology integration: entry, adoption, adaptation, appropriation and invention (Sandholtz, Ringstaff and Dwyer, 1997; Dias, 1999). Unfortunately, trained educators are blocked at the adaptation phase due to the administrative limitation and lack of access to the computer labs.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that there was an unbalanced distribution of policy decisions. For example, universities along with high schools benefited from the establishment of new computer resource centers whereas primary and secondary schools did not benefit to the same extent. Notably, it would have been more effective to provide such resources to first trained cohort. Furthermore, familiarizing young learners with new concepts or resources, such as phones, would more likely result in a frequent manipulation of these devices. Consequently, if the schooling equipment process was reversed, it would be easier to prepare the new millennium learners.
This blog post investigated the initiation of the reform of 2000 in Algeria through the implementation of ICT in the education system. According to some critics, newly mandated policies should not be viewed as “alms to glorify reforms” (Haddar, 2015) but measured decisions to be assessed for a profound growth. Thus, despite the government policy development to fit within global standards, questions have raised about the feasibility and sustainability of such policies. Unfortunately, the reform failed to overlap between physical technological equipment and pedagogical incorporation of course books’ content. It further lacked coordination between educators and administrators to use the labs which had been set up.
In addition, it worth mentioning that there was an unbalanced distribution of policy decisions. For example, universities along with high schools benefited from the establishment of new computer resource centers against primary and secondary schools. Noticeably, it would have been more effective to provide such resources to first trained cohort. Furthermore, recent research has provided / proved that familiarizing young learners with new concepts or resources such as phones would more likely result in a frequent manipulation of these devices. Consequently, if the schooling equipment process was unversed, it would have been easier to prepare the new millennium learners.
The findings of this paper indicate that for better assistance to both the teachers and learners, there should be (1) follow-up sessions to further support educators on how to use the acquired knowledge in order to plan their lessons. In addition, (2) giving access to palm devices to a large number of young learners and for more than 40 minutes would result in enabling the next generation to be more familiar with new technologies and to cope with changes. Administrative wise, (3) building up a sound collaborative culture within schools and between the educators and principles would result in greater alignment in task achievement. Furthermore, (4) adopting task assessment measures would help evaluate the reform progress and outcomes.
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