Educational Challenges in Algeria: A work in progress

Written by Müge Çınar

Algeria to ease primary school programme. Photo by Magharebia

Algeria is known as the geographically largest country in Africa, located in northern Africa. This country may be divided into two separate parts, one is under the influence of the Mediterranean with the Atlas Mountains as known Tell and the other mostly consists of the desert situated in the western portion of the Shara. The total population that is living in Algeria is nearly 44 million.[1]

Algeria became independent after more than 130 years of colonization in 1962. During the colonization, the education system was constructed for mirroring that of France, mostly serviced by the French population and a relatively small Algerian elite. When the Algerian Independence War ended, nearly 90% of the population was illiterate. As a result, the country went into creating a new Algeria by following Arabization.[2]

In 1990, the expenditure on education was high, at 29.7% of the national budget. Education was put at the centre of rebuilding the country by creating a skilled force and people who share the same national consciousness[3]. Although their attempts of reforming the education system after the Second World, the progress in the education of the children remained insufficient. Accordingly, colonial history, gender, ethnicity, and religion formed the education opportunities for the children.[4]

Today, education at all levels is free in Algeria in the condition of passing the previous cycle. Social policy is applied by the state in the education sector, and this may be related to the democratic transition, although it’s debatable how successful it was[5]. The Algerian school system includes three cycles that are primary, middle and secondary school. Nine years of education from ages 6 to 14, the first two cycles are compulsory and the attendance rate is very high. Secondary education is also compulsory while having high numbers of drop-offs.

Main Challenges in Education

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for teaching, however, there are differences in teacher preparation programs and in-service training programs. Only 17% of primary school teachers have this certification, and nearly 70% of middle school teachers don’t have it. Furthermore, the educational system’s internal effectiveness falls far short of what society expects, as evidenced by the high rates of school dropout and repetition among students.[6]

Poorly maintained facilities, and a lack of teachers and classroom space, especially in underprivileged communities, are examples of inadequate infrastructure. The lack of regulations and educational facilities restricts pre-primary education. Numerous students are required to repeat grades, especially at the lower secondary level, which motivates them to drop out.

Low educational quality is caused by a grading system that measures how test takers perform in contrast to their peers rather than how much information they know, by instruction that prioritizes content over learning, and by the absence of participation from important stakeholders. International test results are 20% below the worldwide average.[7] Many of the children who are not in school are disabled children. Specialist centres are scarce, and attempts to integrate students into regular classes fall short.

Economic Disparity

Nearly 2% of boys in primary school age are out of school, and it is nearly the same rate for girls. The disparity in genders gets wider in secondary school; 17% male youth and 14% of female youth never attend school. In both primary and secondary schools, the widest disparity can be realized between the poorest and richest children who are out of school. While attendance at primary school by the poorest children drops by 1% compared to the richest ones, it declines by 20% in secondary education level considering the poor economic conditions of the families. It shows how economic conditions hinder children to reach their main right to get an education. Despite the social policies of the state, most of the children in Algeria are unable to get a basic level of education due to inadequate economic conditions.[8]

Discriminatory socioeconomic characteristics play a huge role in education in the country. Household wealth, social differences, regional economic disparities and the mother’s educational level are the predominant factors that affect educational imbalance in Algeria. There is a crucial need for incentives by the government for children who can’t afford education or for children who have to work in order to support their families. On the other hand, regional and social differences have decreased, according to an analysis of developments over the past ten years. The equality of the Algerian educational system has improved as a result.[9] Yet, more investment is needed to create homogeneous economic levels in every region to solve educational disparities between children.

Bejaia University. Photo by Vermondo.

Spending on Education

Algeria’s economy suffered from a blow to the government budget due to the country’s oil-dependent economy. The struggle in the economy started in 2014 with the drop in global oil prices. Dependency on oil and gas export, rather than investing in other sectors, put Algeria in a vulnerable situation due to the breakdown of the trade during Covid-19.[10] Moreover, this situation contributed a multidimensional poverty that also affected education in a large dimension. Education spending on education dropped from 7.3% to 6.1% due to the pandemic. Hopefully, spending on education increased to 7% in 2020 and be back to normal levels before the pandemic.[11]

Despite the country providing nine years of mandatory and free education for all levels of schooling, Algeria still needs to improve some objectives to provide quality education, better living conditions and low unemployment by prioritizing its GDP spending on education.

High Rates of Non-Enrollment and Drop-Outs

According to data from UNICEF on the state of education, net enrolment levels are as follows: in elementary education, 98% of boys and 97% of girls are enrolled; in middle and high school, 57% of boys and 65% of girls are enrolled.[12] These statistics make it obvious that basic levels of participation are sufficient, but it requires much more growth. While primary school attendance is nearly the same for both genders, It changes after middle school when the attendance of boys at school is less than girls.

There are nearly 8.5 million children receiving an education in the three stages of education. According to the report, about 1 million Algerian children between the ages of 5 and 14 (or 15% of this age group) are impacted by various non-enrollment factors. Primary school attendance is high. On the other hand, at the secondary education level, half of them are not in school, and the other half are enrolled but in danger of dropping out before finishing the cycle.[13]

While participation in basic education is a huge problem to solve, drop-outs of school children is another critical issue to be concerned about. According to the Algerian League for Defence of Human Rights, 400,000 children drop out of school yearly, while 25,000 continue to get professional training. School dropouts occur mostly in the countryside due to the remoteness of schools and high rates of poverty. It is important to add that some regions are poorly equipped with water, heating and electricity that make getting an education impossible for children. Also, the classrooms are inadequate which leads to over crowdedness in classrooms. These are the main discouragements of children from getting an education and 4.7% of them drop out of school as a result.[14]

The Language Barrier

After its independence from France, the country pursued the usage of the French language at the institutions and the administration of business, despite the wide application of the Arabization policy. Today the official language of Algeria is Arabic and Tamazight, and Berber was also recognized as a national language in 2002. President Tebboune announced in June 2022 that the government took a step toward language transition into English in primary schools too.[15] He points out the universality of the English language to learn by children for their benefit, while others have criticised this transition as political agenda related to the history of the country.

In the early years of the Republic, especially under Houari Boumediene’s rule, Arabisation policies dominated the implementation of education policies. The law was applied to generalise using Arabic in 1991.[16] Implementing Arabisation to the education sector, academies and workers failed to switch to the Arabic language successfully. Also, Algeria’s ethnically diverse population was damaged by this transition.

Today, once again Algeria find itself in an intervention in language transition despite other challenges in the education sector waiting to be solved. With the decision of replacing French with English, a drastic change has been made and this situation will affect more than 20,000 schools across the country in 2023. Under the curriculum in 2022, English is taught at secondary school, while children at nine years old start with French.[17] Algerian children are being left unable to continue academically with a single language due to the unclarity of provisions in the transition into English in schools. This will also hinder the future workforce to form a single language to carry the work.

Higher education started to offer English in many degrees, while some of them remain taught in French. The main question is; Are there enough qualified academicians and teachers to pursue the language transition policy?

Low Qualified Staff in Higher Education

The students who attended higher education were composed of 1.5 million in 2020. In fact, women had a greater gross enrolment rate in higher education than males did.[18] 41% of females and 19% of males attended higher education, according to MICS data of UNESCO in 2019. This trend indicates that males are more likely to drop school than females in Algeria.[19] Poverty plays a huge role in gender inequality in education, male children are likely to be child-labour to support their families and themselves. Also, males tend to repeat classes more than females, and their risk of failing in classes to complete their education is higher.

The qualitative improvement of teaching in the higher education institutions is a must. Only 28% of the academic staff in the universities are holding doctorates. The government-funded programmes for doctoral students to study abroad are being negotiated. The British Council and the Ministry are working together on a large-scale postgraduate study programme for people who want to study abroad.[20] Hopefully, this would help facilitate the reform of the higher education system.

Sahrawi Children in the Refugee Camps

Forgotten refugee crisis: Sahrawi refugees in Algeria. Photo by AMMILOUIZA LOUIZA AMMI

More than 173,000 Sahrawi refugees currently live in five camps located in Tindouf province, Algeria. These people were displaced more than 45 years after fleeing the conflict. The children who live in the camps are suffering from food security, health conditions, inadequate protection and most importantly lack of education.[21]

Nearly 98% of the children are getting primary school education, and the illiteracy rate is 4%. Yet, secondary and grad school educations are not provided in the camps. Each camp consists of six primary schools and two middle schools with very low incentives and low resources. Sahrawi students are able to attend secondary schools and universities for free, but most of them are not able to cover travel and living expenses for moving to other cities. A number of male students who move out to study, while it’s not possible for the female students to do so.[22]

The 2021-2025 five-year education strategy for Sahrawi refugees in Algeria was launched by UNHCR, UNICEF, and WFP in November 2021 with the goal of improving Sahrawi refugee children’s and adolescents’ inclusive access to high-quality education. 244 kids with physical and cognitive disabilities are also given Special Needs Education (SNE) in 10 SNE centres spread around the camps. Children who are refugees are supported by UNHCR by giving them books, school supplies, and teaching aids to promote a secure learning environment.[23]




[1]Encyclopedia Britannica

[2] Durham, B. (2021). Primary Education and the French Army During the Algerian War of Independence. In: Beier, J.M., Tabak, J. (eds) Childhoods in Peace and Conflict. Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

[3] Rose, M. (2015). Education in North Africa since independence. In Paper commissioned for the Hammamet Conference. London: British Council.

[4] Durham, B. (2021). Primary Education and the French Army During the Algerian War of Independence. In: Beier, J.M., Tabak, J. (eds) Childhoods in Peace and Conflict. Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.


[6] Education Data Center, Algeria: National Education Profile

[7] WorldBank

[8] Education Data Center, Algeria: National Education Profile

[9] UNICEF, Country Report: Algeria (2014)


[11] World Bank

[12] Tiliouine, H. (2015). Children’s Worlds National Report Algeria. Journal of Algerian Studies, 3, 48-70.

[13]  UNICEF, Country Report: Algeria (2014)






[19] UNESCO, MICS 2019

[20] Rose, M. (2015). Education in North Africa since independence. In Paper commissioned for the Hammamet Conference. London: British Council.

[21] ACAPS Briefing Note: Algeria: Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf (19 January 2022)

[22] ACAPS Briefing Note: Algeria: Sahrawi refugees in Tindouf (19 January 2022)

[23] UNHCR Algeria Fact Sheet – February 2023

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