French kids should learn Arabic? Education minister suggests controversial curriculum change

French kids should learn Arabic? Education minister suggests controversial curriculum change
France’s minister of national education has expressed support for adding Arabic language to the school curriculum for French children, enraging the country’s right-wing that has warned of dire consequences if the plan goes ahead.

France should draw up a “qualitative strategy” for teaching Arabic language in schools, Jean-Michel Blanquer said during an interview on French television. He insisted that Arabic, along with Chinese and Russian, is one of the “great languages of civilization” and should be learned “not only by people of Maghrebi origin or Arabic-speaking countries.” 

Blanquer’s comments were made in response to a report authored by the Montaigne Institute, a Paris-based think tank, which found that middle and high school students learning Arabic have increasingly turned to religious schools that teach Salafism – a radical branch of Islamic that advocates Sharia law. The report called on the French government to incorporate Arabic into the public school curriculum in order to counter the political and religious indoctrination taught at these Salafi schools.

Due to the rising popularity of these Islamic schools, Salafi indoctrination “is gaining ground in France” – especially among young people, the report’s author, Hakim El Karaoui, wrote. “The number of students learning Arabic in France’s secondary and high schools has halved. But the rate has multiplied by ten in mosques.”

But while Blanquer was quite vague on the possible pros and cons of such an endeavor, Robert Menard, the right-wing mayor of the town of Beziers, didn’t mince words when he decried Blanquer’s suggestion as a “project with incalculable consequences.”

“To develop the teaching of Arabic in school and to ‘give prestige’ is to legitimize the birth of another nation within France,” Menard tweeted. Apparently, he was not alone in his anger.

“In a normal country, immigrants are asked to integrate, especially by learning the national language. In our country, the Minister of Education wants French children to learn Arabic,” wrote Antoine Baudino, a legislative staffer for the vocally anti-immigrant National Rally party.

Jean-Frederic Poisson, a member of the National Assembly and president of the Christian Democratic Party, called the idea of teaching Arabic in public schools a “bad joke.”

“Faced with the level of French declining from our students, this preposterous idea demonstrates that the government has a very disturbing sense of priorities!” he wrote.

Despite his best efforts to point out that Arabic is in fact a “great literary language,” the minister didn’t win much support on social media.

“Developing Arabic would be the end of the West!” one Twitter user warned. “Learn Arabic? Like German in the 1940s?” wrote another user, seemingly suggesting that France is being “occupied.”

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