The promotion of teaching the Arabic language in United Kingdom schools is gaining momentum.
More than 200 instructors, academics and other education professionals participated in the Arabic Language and Culture Conference at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). The conference focused on the promotion of Arabic language teaching in British schools and confirmed there is “an appetite for learning Arabic among UK students,” as Denise Marray from the Gulf Times reports.
The British Council, a cultural and educational organization, organized the Arabic Language Conference in London along with the Qatar Foundation to promote the introduction of Arabic teaching in elementary and high schools in Britain. In a report, British Council Chair Sir Vernon Ellis states, “Arabic is the second most vital language to the UK over the next 20 years.”
This belief is reinforced by evidence that since its introduction, the A level examination for the Arabic language has doubled its entries in 2014, while languages like German and French experienced less demand. Britain’s foreign language teaching university departments are in crisis as interest in the study of German, French, Spanish and other languages has dramatically decreased.
The Guardian reports that “policy changes and lower funding have created a huge skills gap in schools, threatening university departments with closure. In is forecast that in 10 years, 4 in 10 university language departments will close.
In 2013, the British Council and the Qatar Foundation in partnership with the Greater London Authority piloted a project on the Arabic language and culture promotion by helping train Arabic Language teachers. The pilot project helped schools in London, Manchester, Sheffield, Devon and elsewhere recruit proficient Arabic language teachers.
Martin Hope, Qatar British Council country director, confirms that making Arabic available at the secondary education level is a challenge:
“To start introducing world languages into primary and secondary schools requires a huge investment of time, resources and planning. You have got to have more teachers and more schools that want to teach Arabic.”
The British Council Director in Bahrain, Tony Calderbank, highlights the opportunities that emerge from mastering Arabic:
“The knowledge of Arabic is instrumental to gaining a real understanding of the peoples, societies and politics of the Arab world, and accessing a range of employment opportunities in the region’s finance, media and commercial sectors. ”
The awareness-raising efforts of the British Council have been met with political opposition. The British National Party (BNP) explicitly opposed the idea of implementing Arabic language teaching in British schools:
“Yes, Arabic will be useful in an Islamic Britain where the Quran will no-doubt be recited in the Arabic language…Yet again Islam is making little adjustments to our society whilst the majority of the public sleep in ignorance – an ignorance that will one day lose them their nation … We say now, that we do not believe that there is any real demand for Arabic to be taught to primary children across Britain.”