Amid broad debate about French language's place in France's former African colonies, Algeria is denying that efforts to force Francophone private schools to adopt the country's national curriculum constitute hostility toward French.
Education Minister Abdelkrim Belabed said that no languages were being "targeted" in Algeria and noted that multilingualism was among the education system's major achievements.
"All languages are welcome," he said Saturday.
Algeria has more French speakers than all but two nations — France itself and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nearly 15 million people out of the country's population of 44 million speak it, according to the International Organization of the French Language. But Algeria is among the many nations throughout Africa placing a greater emphasis on English and Indigenous languages and, in the process, reevaluating French's role in school and society.
Neighboring Mali changed its constitution to remove French from its list of official languages and Morocco made English classes compulsory in high schools.
This year, Algeria is expanding English language courses in elementary schools and doubling down on efforts to enforce a law requiring that private schools — including ones that have taught almost exclusively in French — abide by the predominantly Arabic national curriculum.
Enforcement efforts against private schools that prepare students for higher education in French aren't new. They date back to 2019. But authorities hadn't until this year aggressively pursued enforcing them. Their efforts provoked headlines and outcry in French media and among Algerian families who can afford tuition.
Belabed said the law's critics were describing the country's efforts without context and reaffirmed Algeria's position that private schools had to teach the national curriculum, which he called a "vehicle for our societies identifying values."
Though French remains widely used in Algeria, the language has been subject to political questions since the country wrested its independence from France after a brutal, seven-year war more than 60 years ago. Langauge has become closely tied to Algerian nationalism since that era, when political leaders adopted the slogan "Algeria is my country, Arabic is my language and Islam is my religion."
There are only 680 private schools in Algeria, which educates more than 11 million students. Few operate in French or try to teach "double curriculums" in both languages to prepare students for higher education.
The effort to crack down on French and private schools teaching outside the nationally mandated curriculum comes as Algeria adds English language courses in elementary schools.
Public universities are making English part of their core curriculums this year as part of a move to transition to the language in science classes.