Schools from across Northern Ireland are kicking off the new school term in Arabic.
Through the British Council’s Arabic Culture and Language Programme, nine schools are currently active in developing the teaching and learning of the language.
These schools include Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle, which began running classes for Key Stage 3 pupils and members of the local community earlier this year.
Praising the initiative was teacher Ian McMillan, Head of German and co-ordinator of the programme.
He said: “I have wanted to get my pupils involved in Arabic for some time. Languages are what I do – and for me Arabic seemed like an interesting challenge and something that as a school we could take on.
“I started to view the language differently though after the Paris attacks –there was a lot of racial tension about and I saw it as a chance to educate our pupils about the Arabic culture and way of life. At Shimna, we are an integrated school and diversity is what we do, so for me, this was more than just about languages, there was a political purpose to it.
“Though the most important thing is for the pupils to enjoy it, and they really do.”
Also speaking about the programme was Arabic teacher, Rym Akhonzada from Interlingua Language Solutions.
She said: “I think as news is spreading, there’s becoming a lot more interest in Arabic from other schools. Languages are a great way to break down barriers at any age, and in any community.
“I’ve definitely seen a change in the pupils’ attitudes, here and in the other schools towards Arabic. There’s definitely an increasing enthusiasm for it, and I can only see this continuing. I previously helped organise a conference exploring the future of Arabic in education at BRA (Belfast Royal Academy), and due to demand, hope to do something similar this autumn.”
“For me personally, it’s also great to be able to teach my own native language, in what I now consider my home.”
Also speaking about the programme was pupil Natasha Manganaro, who said: “I find it difficult, but it’s fun! I hope the classes continue as I really want to keep learning more.”
The programme comes as a result of a report entitled ‘Languages for the Future’ published by the British Council, which ranked Arabic as the second most vital language to the UK over the next twenty years. However the gap between this need and current provision is particularly great: with Arabic taught in just 1% of schools in the UK.
Commenting was Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director, British Council Northern Ireland, who said:
“Arabic is one of the world’s great languages. Spoken by more than 400 million people, it has been the vehicle of many significant contributions in science and culture. An awareness of the language and culture can enrich the curriculum but also improves our young people’s job prospects and increases business opportunities. The Middle East is one of the fastest growing regions and one of the UK’s top export markets - learning Arabic therefore, can only be a good thing.”
British Council Northern helps local students, academics, teachers, artists, and others connect with people around the world. To find out more about this programme or anything else we do, visit our website http://nireland.britsihcouncil.org or follow on Twitter BCouncil_NI or Facebook.