The Algerian teachers’ unions decided to put an end to their strike after the government responded positively to most of their demands. The conflict between the teachers (who were many to follow the unions call) and Benbouzid’s ministry restarts every now and again (latest episode was last November), and the standoff is something the ministry and the teachers unions are used to.
Benbouzid, as usual, declared the strike illegal, but this time, he threatened to fire any teacher who wouldn’t work on March 7th, and to replace them by the many unemployed graduates.
I have no doubt about the havoc Benbouzid caused inside the educational system, and I think many of the teachers’ demands are relevant. But I have to say that I cannot fully sympathize with them as I feel they’re not doing their job properly, and they’re part of the problem as much as they should be part of the solution.
So I decided to write a few lines where I’d list some of the teachers’ practices which make me hesitate to support them, and also some of the educational system problems. I am surprised that I wrote such a lengthy text, but let’s say this will be my longest post ever and I should be forgiven. The story is of course imaginary but every point I mentioned is based on an actual case or person I went across.
I wasn’t particularly smart when I was a student. I guess I was average, I did my homework and my marks were just fine. I passed the baccalaureate on my first attempt, but I was hardly above the pass mark. Therefore I couldn’t get my first choice in university. I wanted to be an architect but the INI’s computer calculations forced me to study languages, Arabic in particular. The four university years went smoothly. I attended half of the courses and relied on a committed classmate for the graduation project. I can’t remember the topic we (he) chose.
The graduation ceremony was awesome. The questions during the viva were easy, and our supervisor was the head of the institute, so the jury members didn’t want to be tough on us (he was powerful enough to crush their careers had they upset him). But the awesomeness feeling came rather from the sweets we ate and the music and fun we had after the exam was over.
Holding an Arabic language bachelor in the early 90s, I could hardly find a job in the industry (was there any industry at all?). So all I could rely on was the ministry of education and a teaching position somewhere in my home town. I never thought I’d become a teacher but what to do!
The first issue was the military service. In Algeria a man cannot be hired if he hasn’t wasted 18 years (it is 18 months but I imagine they feel like years) of his life in the army. I of course was so against going there. Not only I would have been appointed as the chauffeur of some ignorant officer (if not his wife’s), but I would have risked my life as the conscripts were the terrorists’ preferred targets. Thank God, my mother’s uncle was a colonel and he managed to get me the yellow card.
So I was ready to start my job quest. I knew exactly how things worked and I decided to put every chance on my side. I first applied for a teaching position in the academy. They told me they had no open positions (a big fat lie), and that many men and women were before me in the waiting list, which was true. But I didn’t care; my application was but a simple formality. I contacted my uncle who was the head of a school and asked him to help me. Luckily, one teacher in his school was on a maternity leave and he hadn’t found a replacement yet. Three days later I was at the academy again, but this time to take my appointment letter. I was so happy when I received it from the same guy who had told me there were no jobs openings. On my way-out I met my former classmate with an appointment letter in his hand. When I asked, he told me that he knew someone in the academy.
So I taught the pregnant woman’s students until she came back. My uncle called a friend of his who owed him one and managed to find me another position in another school. This system lasted for four years. In the mean time, I registered for the examination exams. I forgot to say that, the very year of my graduation, Benbouzid decided that all bachelor holders would need an extra exam before being granted a permanent contract. The exam was in two parts: written and oral. I almost fainted the first year when I saw around 1000 men and women taking the exam with me for 20 Arabic teacher positions. That year I failed the written part. The second year I reached the oral examination stage, we were only 50 and there were 5 positions. The jury interrogated me about the war in Iraq , what I thought of Islamism, and also if I was married. I guess my answers were wrong since I failed again. The same thing happened the next year, and the fourth year as well. But that year, I passed! I can’t tell how to be honest, but there’s a theory about it. The oral exam takes place in a different wilaya every year (it was Batna, then Skikda, then Jijel then my town). Apparently, the “system” cannot easily cheat during the written exam, but they can do all they wanted during the oral part. And they usually favoured candidates from their own wilayas, and sometimes they favoured candidates in difficult situations: long-term unemployment, being a woman, having children, etc. And I passed on the fourth year only because the exam took place in my city and the jury defended me, wlid lebled.
I was so happy. I finally got a permanent job and would finally be paid. Yes, the academy said that they had no budget for the replacement teachers (what I did in the past four years) so they couldn’t pay us! I actually was paid regularly during the first year but then the following three years I received nothing. I filed many complaints but all I was told was to wait till rahmet Rabbi comes (I was finally paid two years ago, which confirms the Algerian saying “essaber ynal”). So I said I was happy, but not totally (Algerians always complain). I wanted to change school, but my uncle had retired. So I tried to do it the right way by entering a request at the academy. The guy there told me it would be difficult esp. that I was a beginner, but he added that he could help if he gets his tchipa. I was infuriated and I asked to see his superior. When I told him the story, in presence of the corrupt guy, the superior laughed and said he wanted his share too. I didn’t think twice, I gave them 10kDZD. I knew it was wrong but I was only trying to get back my right and haven’t wronged anyone. Plus, I read somewhere a fatwa saying it was ok so long as it couldn’t be avoided and nobody’s wronged. So I moved to a nice school at 5 minutes walk from my home.
I wanted to do my job properly. I gave my students a lot of my time and white hair quickly invaded my head. It took me a few hours per night to prepare the lessons, and I wrote down my comments and improvement ideas, etc. I tried to meet the students’ parents but not everyone came. I guess they didn’t really care.
I was busy all the time but I didn’t forget about my salary. I thought it was too low for the work volume I had, and also for the continuously toughening living conditions. So I pushed the school’s head to convince the inspector to come and visit me so I become mourassam (I don’t know how to say it in English, but hey I am an Arabic teacher). I was informed of the visit day so, following my colleagues advice, I started my preparations. I basically taught the same lesson three times to all my classes and made sure everyone learned their “role”. On the visit day, I even decided to select the best students in each class and artificially built a new one which I would teach in presence of the inspector. The idea was brilliant, wasn’t it? The visit went well, I became mourassam and my salary made a jump forward.
Then routine started. Most of my students were clueless. It was like they never went to school before meeting me. They couldn’t tell which is “فاعل” and which is “مفعول به“. Speaking in academic Arabic was impossible as they couldn’t build a simple sentence before thinking for ages. Their concentration was at the lowest possible level and so was their involvement. I tried once to talk to them but one replied that education was useless and he already had a “stand” in the market of Tadjenanet and that business was the future. I must admit that I wished I had a stand there too. One day a student insulted me after I scolded her. I requested her father to come. He didn’t let me talk and directly punched me in the face. I remembered when I was a pupil, our parents not only thanked our teachers for beating us but also punished us again once at home. Like many say, the world has changed and this generation is… difficult. Anyway, after that incident, I decided to work only with the students who wanted to work and completely ignored 4/5 of the class.
The good thing with Benbouzid is that he’s got a new idea (sometime more than one) every year. Ok, they are not his ideas and he takes them from French TV news programs, but el mouhim enniya as we say. One summer, he decided that we should use computers in the class. So programs changed, teaching methodologies too. We even received a group of American teachers who came to tell us how this new teaching technique works. My colleagues and I thought they should have sent us to the USA instead of them coming here. Talking of leaving Algeria , I should mention a colleague of mine who applied N times for emigration to Canada . He filled many forms and probably knows Tunis and the Canadian embassy there better than anyone. He was accepted one year so took a sabbatical year and left. After a few months though, he came back. Apparently he didn’t like it there and like he said, he had to work seriously! Now, after two years, he’s back to his forms and travels to Tunis. He keeps saying, hadhi mashi blad wel3ibad mashi 3ibad and that he deserves to live abroad. But back to the new program. The Americans left, and Bouteflika came to visit us and our new computers room. It was an empty room which they painted before the president’s visit and in which they brought many computers they found in some other state offices. He was so happy and proud. The computers were taken back a few minutes after he had left, and we’re now struggling to teach an informatics-based program without computers. I stopped updating my teacher’s notes and following the program.
Money is an important topic in the teachers’ room. We all think that we deserve higher wages. These last years, tuitions became the norm and most teachers use them as a way to make more money. My colleagues advised me to try it. It of course meant more time spent working but they said I would rest while “working” in the school. One even gave me a widely used technique to encourage, or actually force, my students to register in my private classes. I would first explain things better when they pay me, and explain less when the state pays me. I would, for the exams, select the exercises we would have solved in the private classes. This means only my private students would get good marks. A third technique would be for me to finish off the program in the private classes, and struggle to teach its half at school. My colleagues also asked me to target first some specific students, the children of government officials (chef daira, mayor, police, etc.) and the entrepreneurs. I confess that I tested these methods and they worked well. Now I am a famous private teacher and I have a candidates’ waiting list. I could even buy a car and it’s not a Maruti.
Now thinking about all this, I believe even more in the Algerian saying “elli qra qra bekri”.