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Algeria will begin teaching English in primary school, a major change in the Francophone country that underscores its efforts to move away from its colonial past, the National reported Monday.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced the change following growing demands and campaigns from academics and students to start teaching English earlier, arguing that English is the language of medical and engineering courses at university.

Algeria’s official languages are Arabic and Tamazight, but French is commonly spoken in homes and institutions.

The current curriculum offers English to secondary students from the age of 14, five years after they start learning French.

Tebboune added that the changes are necessary to shed Algeria’s painful past: The North African country was a French colony for more than 130 years and only gained its independence in 1962 following a bloody eight-year war that killed between 400,000 and a million Algerians.

The proposed changes have been discussed for years in Algeria, where the use of French in society has become a sensitive topic in recent decades.

In the 1990s, the government proposed allowing parents to choose whether their children learned French or English when in junior high school. But the proposal was quashed by the pro-France lobby in the government and resulted in the firing of the education minister.

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