French Educational Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, presented a proposal for adding the Arabic-language learning within the French school system.
Throughout the years, France has tried several controversial strategies to stop the rise of Islamism in the country. After none has succeeded, a former French government official has come with a new suggestion: To prevent young people from becoming radicalized, start teaching Arabic in public schools.
In 2016, France’s Education minister, Najat Vallaud Belkacem, decided that Arabic will be taught to primary school aged children as an elective. In 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron’s government is contemplating providing Arabic language courses in more public schools rather than private schools. Private schools teaching Arabic are often connected to mosques and teach the language by asking their students to memorize lines of the Qur’an.
After teaching the Arabic language has been a debate within the French government for a long time, French Educational Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, presented adding the Arabic-language learning within the French school system. He reasoned his proposal saying that “Arabic is a very important language, like other great civilizational languages including Chinese and Russian”. There is a noticeable increase in numbers of Arabs in France making them the largest Muslim community in Europe, which also makes teaching Arabic in the French community crucial.
However, even as the country’s Arab and Muslim population has been increasing, Arabic language classes have declined in France over the past couple decades. French-Tunisian author and expert on Islam and the Arab world, Hakim El Karoui, makes the case that if public schools fail to offer Arabic lessons, young Muslims may seek out language classes at mosques, where the language is tied with religious studies. This could potentially increase the risk of radicalization since driving towards Islamism could be higher in a mosque than at a profane public school.
The government seems to agree with this assessment; “We’re questioning the way in which Arabic is taught today, in separate structures with communitarian tendencies”, Blanquer said. “Therefore, Arabic needs to be developed and given more prestige in the mainstream educational community.”
This approach is being strongly criticized by conservative political forces, accusing the French government of planning to “Islamize” and “Arabize” the country. However, the majority of Arab families welcome the introduction of Arabic language in French schools for they will not worry about their children getting to learn their mother-tongue anymore. It’s been proven that 67% of Muslim or Arab parents want to see their children study classical Arabic, and 56% would like classical Arabic to be taught in public school.
On another hand, there are other arguments in favor of investing in Arabic education that don’t revolve around it being a tool against Islamism. France has deep ties and a shared history with the Arab world, and non-Muslim or non-Arab students would also benefit from learning the language, culture, and history of Arab civilization.
According to the Ministry of Education, only about 0.1% of primary school kids in France learn Arabic, while in middle and high school, only 0.2% of students do and the demand for education in Arabic has only increased. “There is a demand for Arabic that is very strong in French society”, said El Karoui, making it seem vital to serve such demand.
So whether it’s for political or cultural reasons, maybe it’s high time to introduce the Arabic language in the public schools of France.