Education in North Africa

An essay of mine on education in North Africa since Independence, entitled The Sheepskin Effect, appeared in Critical Muslim no. 15, an issue devoted to Education Reform. It is part of an interesting collection, edited by Ziauddin Sardar and Jeremy Henzell-Thomas. Critical Muslim is published by the Muslim Institute and Hurst, and is an excellent quarterly review, which I thoroughly recommend. The Sheepskin Effect begins: 

“The kingdom of Libya became independent of Italy under King Idris in 1951. Just over a decade later, Algeria finally followed after its long war of independence with France in 1962. Between this period, the five countries of the southern Mediterranean coast each in different ways took control of their own futures. Amongst a sobering battery of challenges, one of the more pressing for all of them was education. A large proportion of colonial civil servants, businessmen, skilled workers and teachers left at Independence, especially from the francophone countries where settler colonialism was particularly dense. In Egypt the 1952 Revolution, followed by the Suez War and the expulsion of the mutamassirun, resident foreigners (Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Italians), had a similar effect, though Egyptian capacity was already far more developed than that of the Maghreb. In late Protectorate Morocco, for instance, there were three times as many French fonctionnaires as there were British civil servants in India, with its population forty times the size of Morocco’s – quite apart from a large European commercial and artisan classes. Each country faced an urgent need for skilled manpower to fill the vacuum. Each country’s educated local elite was both much too small, and mostly unsuited, to fill that need itself, and at the same time largely unequipped to train the next generation. Each government faced a pent-up demand for the social escalator that education represented, and from which the vast majority of the Muslim population had been excluded under French rule. Constructing a new education system was for each an urgent and absolutely crucial area of national development.”

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