Both my 11 year old son and 8 year old daughter were thrown in the deep end when they started school in Algeria in 2004. It was the end of the second term of school, they had never learnt any French, Algerian history or geography or civics, although their Islamic studies, Science and Maths was passable. My son had the added pressure of being in the last year of primary school and had to prepare to sit the ‘sixieme’ exam, which is a national exam which he needed to pass in order to graduate to Secondary school, or more accurately, middle school. This exam, the mock one previous to it and the 3 term exams for the previous year are all taken into account when assessing a student for graduation. When my son was doing this exam he was tested in all subjects and, Alhamdulilah he passed as he made up for his lack of French, with other subjects. My husband found out, only about 2 days before the exam, that if he had applied in time, my son could have opted for an English exam instead of a French exam. I believe that you can opt for the Berber language also instead of French. Now, the sixième exam only consists of the three subjects of Maths, Arabic and French.
My 8 year old sat the exams for the end of the second term of the third year of school and passed, and continued the year and passed on to the next one Alhamdulilah. It helped that they weren’t learning French yet at that stage, although nowadays they start to learn French in that year.
I can’t say that I’m ecstatically happy with the school system in Algeria, but then, having home educated I wasn’t too impressed with the English one or any other for that matter, either. The system here treats children like computers – input the information in the form of memorization before exams, print out the information in the way of an exam and then hit the delete button, which is what the children do as soon as the exam is over and forget everything they’ve learnt mostly because they were never encouraged to actually understand it. I did cry when they started school and came home worrying about covering their copy and text books with the right colour and whether their copy books had the exact correct number of pages required for each subject. One year my daughter came home from school saying that her Maths teacher had told the class that if they hadn’t covered their books by the next day they needn’t bother coming to school. I told her to bring the cover to school, leaving the book behind and see how much Maths she would learn from it. Needless to say she did go to school with her book dutifully covered, but I wanted her to know that these rules, although they had to be obeyed had nothing to do with education and learning. I found myself constantly dancing on that fine line between encouraging my children to think outside the box, and, at the same time always having respect for those in authority over them, their teachers, no matter how ridiculously they behaved at times.
One of the positives of sending my children to the state school here in Algeria is that they have learnt the etiquette's of the society they live in, the ‘do’s and don’ts’, in the most natural way possible, and, as a result, so have I! Another plus is that the children’s level of Arabic, Maths and French especially has increased enormously to the stage we could not have reached in England on our own. When it comes to languages the Algerians are second to none in grammar – they could easily teach native English speakers English grammar, but until fairly recently it was difficult or near nigh impossible for them to go abroad and become more proficient in their chosen foreign language, so their level of speaking is not wonderful. Slowly but surely this and other aspects of the Algerian education system are improving and I hope that my children will be instruments of change in this new evolving society inshallah. I am happy to say that it has already begun………