Sunday, August 16, 2015

Algerian Arabic in schools? Actions speak louder than words

As we have seen, research and common sense both confirm that students learn better if you teach them non-language subjects in their first language, whereas it is still hotly debated whether it's better to teach languages in the students' first language or in the target language. One might therefore assume that Benghabrit had the former especially in mind when she proposed teaching 1st and 2nd grade in Darja (Algerian Arabic). After all, only half of the first grade timetable in Algeria is devoted to learning Arabic; the rest is rather ambitiously divided between Maths, Science and Technology, Islamic Studies, Civics, Art, and PE.

But no. In fact, Benghabrit specifically frames teaching in Darja as "a solution... for teaching standard Arabic to our children" and calls for "a national debate on the best way to teach Arabic and the main languages[?] to our children", while emphasising the problem of children failing Arabic. She notes that "if a child does not master Arabic, he cannot master the other subjects which are taught in Arabic, notably essential subjects such as mathematics", without so much as musing on whether maybe we should try to separate the problem of learning mathematics - especially in first grade! - from the problem of learning grammar.

Focusing specifically on Arabic teaching immediately begs the question asked by many critics: if it's more effective to teach Standard Arabic using the students' first language, why does that not also apply to French and English? French is introduced in 3rd grade, and her proposal stops at 2nd. Practically every Algerian I've ever met assumes - rightly or wrongly - that monolingual language teaching is more effective, or indeed that it's only way to teach a language. In such a context, Benghabrit's emphasis on using Darja to teach Standard Arabic can hardly fail to be seen as an attempt to handicap students' acquisition of Standard Arabic while leaving their acquisition of French intact. Her supporters in the Algerian press do little to dispel this assumption; the ones I've seen either don't address the question of its effect on Arabic teaching or are openly hostile to Arabic. That interpretation goes a long way towards explaining the violence of the public reaction against her proposal, disingenuous though it may be.

Even if Benghabrit had had the sense to frame this proposal around non-language subjects instead of around Arabic, actions speak louder than words. When someone obviously well-connected and well-educated, and presumed to be rich, comes and tells Algerians that mother tongue education helps children learn better, the question on people's minds is obvious: Did you demand it for your own children, or your nephews, or your grandchildren? If Benghabrit did, she hasn't mentioned it. Certainly no one else in the government did: we see the rich and powerful seeking out private schools in French, not looking for ones that teach in Darja. No wonder Algerians aren't buying it.


Katharós said...

Sorry, to blow into your blog with a blunt off-topic request. I have obtained an old photograph of a monumental stone block with Kufi script on it. The object is from the Asir Region - Saud Arabia. So, I was wondering if it is possible that someone with in-depth knowledge of various Arabic scripts can decipher it ?

Photograph of the object.

Thanks in advance!

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

The first three lines are easy, being a quote (Qur'an 35:41): "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Indeed, God holds the heavens and the earth, lest they cease. And if they should cease, no one could hold them after Him. Indeed, He is Forbearing and Forgiving." The rest isn't very clear in the photo; the name "Muhammad" is clearly visible on the next line, but that's about all I'm sure of.

So what's the backstory here?

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Actually, on further thought I think the next line says:
"Written by Muhammad bin Muhsin, may God forgive[?] him and his parents and"

Still not sure about the last line.

Katharós said...

Thank you for your response, very interesting. I will try to get a back story to the object.

Katharós said...

Hello again,
The photograph is 20 years old and from a town called Al-Namas , which (after doing some quick research) is actually known for its early Kufic calligraphy.

Unknown said...

Yes, indeed the first two lines in the photo make up verse 41 from Surat FaTir (35): إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُمْسِكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضَ أَن تَزُولا وَلَئِن زَالَتَا إِنْ أَمْسَكَهُمَا مِنْ أَحَدٍ مِّن بَعْدِهِ إِنَّهُ كَانَ حَلِيمًا غَفُورًا
But the rest in't clear except for the name of the prophet Muhammad محمد (pbuh)

Unknown said...

Actually, the first line is the 'besmalah' بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم... and the last two lines do not seem to be Qur'anic.