Bringing Arabic to U.S. / Canadian High Schools.
Growing Number of Organizations Seek to Introduce Arabic Curriculum.
By: Akhtar H. Emon
Arabic Language Institute Foundation (ALIF)
Rancho Palos Verdes, California, 90275, USA.
THE ALIF PROJECT
SOURCES OF FUNDING
We must make Arabic as prevalent in the United States as Spanish. Or at least as commonplace as French, and German.
The Arabic Language Institute Foundation (ALIF), a Los Angeles-based organization is committed to introducing the teaching of the Arabic language into public high schools.
The necessity for a greater number of Arabic speakers is obvious, given the amount of trade the United States does with countries in the Middle East and that region's growing economic importance in world trade. Many big companies have business over there, and all this requires knowledge of Arabic.
While many Arab nations have gone to great lengths to introduce English in their countries, the United States is still behind in following suit with Arabic. However, there are a growing number of colleges and universities that have included Arabic as part of their curriculum, including e.g, UCLA, California State University, U.C. Berkeley and the University of California at Santa Barbara on the West Coast. There are also a few high schools that teach Arabic, but they are only in regions that have high concentrations of Arab-Americans such as Michigan and California. The main goal of ALIF is to have Arabic offered in high schools in the same manner that Spanish, German and French languages are normal parts of the high school curriculum.
While we clearly acknowledge the importance of teaching Spanish, we must question why Arabic courses aren't at least as prevalent as German and French, given the large number of countries where Arabic is the primary language. An estimated 1.2 billion people including 22 Arab countries revere Arabic, as opposed to roughly 100 million German speakers around the world.
The American educational system gives you an option of learning a language as a high school requirement. Students take two to four years of a foreign language in order to graduate. We should take advantage of the system to include Arabic as part of that repertoire.
According to the United States census, there are about 10 million people including Muslims (80%), interested in Arabic Language in the United States. Accordingly, the school systems should reflect that diversity in their curriculum.
As Arab nations gain more of a global presence, especially in non-oil related economic areas, knowing Arabic and understanding the Arab culture will be more valuable for American businesses seeking to tap that growing market.
In the Middle East a lot of jobs, especially in banks, require knowledge of Arabic. Europeans are closer to the Middle East and have been ahead in terms of teaching Arabic. While the U.S. has lagged in introducing Arabic and in recognizing its importance in future trade ties with the Middle East, European countries have not, partly a result of their proximity to the Middle East and also their shared history with the region resulting from Europe's colonial past.
Europeans are more apt to learn new languages, since many European countries require their students to learn several languages. For example, schools in Switzerland teach German, English, French and Italian as part of normal curriculum.
Getting Arabic into American schools will be a more difficult task, but it could prove to be beneficial. Knowledge of Arabic will promote investments here since there are a lot of revenues from oil. The lack of knowledge has stagnated investments into this country.
The U.S. has also been slow to react because of the dominance of English in international finance. Additionally, bias against Arabs continues to permeate American media and other influential groups. But as the Internet in Arabic script becomes more prominent in Arab countries, the use of Arabic will be more necessary to do business in the Near East.
If you want to do business or work for a corporation that does business in Arab countries, then it is helpful. Knowing another language puts you in a better position. Beyond a potential economic benefit, a growing number of organizations are promoting Arabic education as a way to permeate Muslim traditions and Arab culture in second and third generation Arab-Americans.
"It is important to have our children identify with their culture", says Sakeena Mirza, the Research and Education Director for the Southern California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR). "It will give them more self-confidence in their cultural heritage."
The ALIF Project
At this point, ALIF is only a dream, but ALIF is steadily gaining support among a greater number of Arab-American organizations. ALIF has already received support from Arabic and Muslim advocacy groups such as CAIR, the Arab American Business, Chambers of Commerce, and the Islamic Shura Councils of major cities. ALIF has also received support from several public and private universities such as UCLA, USC and California State University at Fullerton.
To set up the ALIF program, it is estimated to cost between $2 to $4 million, depending on the project's initial scope and reach. The money will be used to secure a facility, develop educational software, buy textbooks and train Arabic-proficient people to teach the language. The software would be used on the Internet to make it easier for instructors to teach and give them additional resources to tap.
Once funding is in place, we hope to enlist thousands of Arabic-speaking "weekend" teachers to make the program active. There are about 3,000 Islamic centers in the country and another 1,000 in Canada that have people who teach Arabic in the centers on the weekends. We are hoping to retrain this group to get them accredited and ready to teach in classrooms.
ALIF is already working with several Southern California high schools to get the program installed, though no classes are yet being taught. ALIF is encouraged by the initial interest in the program at some high schools, although a measurable demand by students will be necessary before the program can move forward. While this may be easy to achieve in areas where there are large concentrations of Arab-Americans such as Los Angeles and Detroit, it will be more difficult in other parts of the country.
"To get this going, community support is needed," says CAIR's Sakeena Mirza. "Not by an outside organization but by the community and the students". It's been a dilemma as we kick-off ALIF program. It's like the chicken and the egg. You need the class for students to sign up, but you need students to sign up in order to get the class.
To foster this support, ALIF has launched a recruitment drive in which a mosque will "adopt" a high school, funding and providing an Arabic teacher. The retraining will be done by local universities that are interested in growing their Islamic studies programs.
Most of the universities we contacted, including UCLA, Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, Colombia, U of Michigan, UTA, USC and other schools, are excited about having students taught the Arabic language in high school. Once we get going, the program will be self-sufficient, due to potential revenues that will be generated by ALIF's production of teaching materials, online education programs and by software sales.
Sources of Funding
Already, there have been some success, although it has not been at the high school level. In Southern California, Arabic is recently being taught at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) and at Coastline Community College. At high schools the Arabic program does not have the proper resources to teach the classes at the moment. We have excellent instruction material available, but it is meant for colleges.
ALIF proposal can be viewed at the web-site www.IslamiCity.com/Education. IslamiCity's Shakeel Syed is working with ALIF, www.ArabAcademy.com and www.Harf.com and negotiating to offer the Arabic teaching at all levels (Beginners, Intermediate, and Advanced) via downloading lessons through the internet. This approach will enable teaching of Arabic as a Distance Learning for students at High Schools, Colleges, and even individuals at home. Electronic teaching will be used as a supplement to live Arabic teachers and professors, to mitigate the shortage of Arabic teachers. The present cost is only $ 12 per month for all Arabic courses offered by www.ArabAcademy.com.
Initially Arabic Distance Learning services will be offered free or at a minimum cost in working with www.IslamiCity.com/Education. The drinking of Coffee became popular in U.S and Canada since it was offered for free in the beginning when the Tea-drinking Europeans migrated here. Spanish as second language is more popular today as many youngsters e.g, can learn Spanish free from their Spanish nanny. How about Arabic ? You have to make Arabic much easier to learn by offering all sorts of options at a minimum or zero cost.
Similarly, about 30 years ago soccer was hardly known or played at public schools in North America. Today, soccer moms get to choose who will be the next U.S. President. The big auto makers are competing to design cars in order to please the soccer moms. The AYSO organization deserves the credit. ALIF has a similar role to play for popularity of Arabic language like AYSO did the job for soccer in North America. We can do it in 30 years.
Akhtar H. Emon
Arabic Language Institute Foundation (ALIF)
Rancho Palos Verdes, California, 90275-4601, USA.
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