Historical Background of Libya

Libya’s population of approximately 6.5 million lives mainly in the North of the country, the fourth largest country on the Africa continent. It has a Mediterranean sea coast line of about 1900 kilometers. Libya is a large country with an area of about 1.8 million square kilometers, seven times the size of the United Kingdom (Almansory, 1995, pp. 5-30).

There was more or less no unified organizational activity in Libya before the period of independence (Agnaia, 1996). The main reason for that was because Libya was subjected independence to many foreign occupations: the Ottoman Empire’s long occupation (1551-1911); the Italians invaded Libyan territory in 1911; in 1912, the Turkish signed the “Ouchy” treaty with Italy. leaving the Libyan people to face a harsh colonial destiny. They resisted the

invading force for more than twenty years (D. F. i, 1991).

At the end of 1943, the British entered Libya and established a military government in the country. The French entered the southern region of Libya and established their military rule. From 1942 to 1951, Libya was under temporary British military rule but, in1951, the independence of the country was acknowledged through the United Nations. The Libya government was established as a Kingdom.

1.2 Education Background

The quality of education depends on the situation in a country, and developing countries differ from developed countries in their educational provision. Today, there is major investment in education in the view that education is very important in people’s lives and their children’s good future careers.

The situation in schools in Libya is that of a developing country. Clearly there are problems about the quality of education. The need to build so much in order to educate so many in a short time brings its own problems. The Libyan government fully supports and finances the education system at all levels (free education for all stages).

On independence in 1951, a UNESCO Commission came to Libya to report and to make recommendations about education. They reported that there were only 29 primary school in the capital city of Libya (Tripoli) and only one in the other major city (Zawia). There was one teacher training centre for women in Tripoli (Toruneav, 1952). The primary school system in Tripoli was based on the Egyptian syllabus, and the upper primary school system followed the Italian school curriculum. Education was given no priority at all under these periods of occupation.

During the period of monarchy, all Libyans were guaranteed the right to education at school at all levels but education was not compulsory (Yousif, et al., 1996). In September1969, there was a major revolution which altered things quite dramatically. This revolution made many positive steps in Libya and education started to grow at an enormous rate, alongside huge economical, political, and social changes in the country (see table 1.2).

Growth in Education in Libya

Year Number Literacy

1951 34000 population literacy < 20%

1962 150000 female literacy ~6%

1969 360000

1977 980000 overall literacy 51% but females 31%

1986 1245000 literacy: 54% male, 46% female

2004 1477000 literacy: 92% male, 72% female

Table 1.2 Growth in Education

Under the Constitution of 1969 (amended 2 March 1977), Libyans are guaranteed the right to education. Primary and high schools were established all over the country, and old Quranic schools that had been closed during the struggle of independence were reactivated and new ones established, lending a heavy religious perspective to Libyan education. The educational program suffered from a limited curriculum, a lack of qualified teachers and a marked tendency to learn by rote rather than by reasoning. Libya’s population of approximately 6.5 million now includes 1.7 million students (Khalifa, 2000). Education in Libya expanded particularly rapidly between 1973 and 1984 (Yousif et al.,1996). During this period, the size of the school population doubled, girls in the student population increasing by 130 percent, compared with 80 percent for boys.

1.3 Structure of Education System in Libya

Formal education in Libya is organized from age four and general education in Libya involves thirteen years with pupils entering primary at the age of six (see table 1.3).

Stage Year Group Ages Period

Primary 1-6 6-12 6 years

Middle 7-9 12-15 3 years

High 10-13 15-19 4 years

Table 1.3 Three Levels of School Education

The overall structure of the education system can be seen in figure 1.4. The focus of this study is on Middle and Higher Schools (age 12-18+)

Age 19

and above

Age 4-6

Age 6-15

High School


High School


High School

Age 15-19 Technology













Figure 1.4 Structure of Education in Libya

The vast majority of children in Libya (99%) attended state schools for the compulsory education stages, involving primary and middle school. Very recently, the compulsory stage has been extended to the end of High School. There are examinations at the end of each year and students who pass may proceed to the next year of study. Performance in examinations at High school determines entry to university or college.

1.4 The Situation in Libyan Schools

The main problem at present of education in Libya is the quality of education. The need to build so much in order to educate so many in a short time creates the classical dilemma of quality of education versus quantity education. In fact, this problem is not the problem of Libyan education only but is a problem common to many developing countries. There is also a shortage of Libyan school teachers at secondary school level especially those qualified in science subjects. This leads to a problem with Libyan students especially in the science subjects. This problem has existed from 1988 (Turki, 1994).

Overall, the curriculum of the high schools (ages 16-20) is not connected to the students’ environment or lifestyles while the curriculum presents concepts in very abstract ways. There is frequently not enough equipment and facilities at some schools (e.g. computers and laboratories). Classes are often large with an inadequate supply of teachers. Finally, the examination system emphasizes the rote recall of information and holds great power over the learners at key times of the year. Against this background, students are often not very satisfied or fulfilled in their studies and often show this by leaving school or simply failing to attend.

1.5 Curriculum Aims of the Schools

In Libya, the government provides policy statements detailing the aims of the school. The curriculum must cover all the activities in a school designed to promote the moral, cultural, intellectual and physical development of students, and must prepare them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life and society. The following is an extract from the curriculum policy statement aims prepared by the Libyan Education Authority (1995), translated into English:

(a) Build knowledge and skills which enable children to understand a wide range of

Concepts and apply this understanding in appropriate ways;

(c) Ensure that appropriate provision is made for all children to achieve their full


(c) Develop positive attitudes to learning in an environment which will preserve self-esteem and Confidence

(d) Develop as wide a variety as possible all curriculum skills and knowledge

necessary for everyday life;

(e) Develop a positive attitude to physical activity through participation in activities

which promote confidence and self-esteem;

(f) Work in partnership with parents and the community enabling children to gain

maximum benefit in their environment.

However, while educational improvement is still a priority for the government, the educational programmes suffer from limited curricula, a lack of qualified teachers (specially Libyan teachers), and a strong tendency to learn by rote rather than by reasoning, a characteristic of Arab education in general. Nonetheless, education is already free at all levels, and students receive a substantial stipend.

1.6 Compulsory Education

This stage of education is compulsory for the pupils to get a certificate allowing them to enter high school. This stage includes 9 years of education, from 6 and 15 years old usually, with two levels: primary and middle. The primary school starts from the age of 6 years until 12 years after which the pupils move to the middle level where they have 3 years of study to finish the compulsory school. This level is ended by a national examination which is considered by the pupils as a new and frightening experience.

This examination is organized at the level of the county and all pupils of the same county are examined simultaneously. What makes the experience for pupils more challenging is that other teachers correct their work. It is rarely that the rate of the success attains 60%. This national exam is considered as an obstacle diminishing the rate of the success. This method of examination has a psychological impact on the pupils. For this reason, the final year of compulsory school is chosen for the questionnaire since the pupils have already developed on opinion about the examination system and its impact on learning and studying: aim of this research.

The curricula, in terms of subjects to be studied are shown in table 1.5.

Curriculum in Libyan Schools

Schools Primary School Middle High

School School

Grades 1st-3th 4th–6th 7th-9th 10th-13th

Arabic Arabic Arabic Arabic

Mathematics Mathematics Mathematics Computing

Religion Religion Religion Religion

Physical Ed Physical Ed Physical Ed Physical Ed

Painting Painting Painting English

Culture Culture Culture

Science English

History Biology plus

Geography Chemistry choice by

Physics subject

History direction


Table 1.5. The Curriculum (Schools in Libya)

1.7 The High School

After the success in the national examination, the students may move to the high school where they finish their study. There are many types: general high schools (Science, Technology and Arts sections), specialized high school and intermediate vocational centers. In 1996-97, it was decided to create specialized high schools in Basic Sciences, Economics, Biology, Arts and Media, Social Sciences and Engineering. Studies usually last for four years (three years in general high school and vocational training schools, and five years in Teacher Training institutions) (IAU, 2000). This study will focus on the three main types of high school (science, technology and arts). To pass the examinations, students must have success every year during the four years. The fourth year is ended by a national examination organized at the level of the whole country. The period of high school is a decisive phase in the student’s career. It also includes the later stages of adolescence which can affect greatly the student’s attitude.

1.8 ELT in Libya

In the 1980s the focus of English language teaching in Libya was on grammar and reading comprehension Lessons were characterized by oral drills (with a focus on correct grammar and pronunciation), memorization of vocabulary, and reading aloud. Arabic was widely used in English lessons by teachers and students. During the late 1980s, as a result of political tensions between Libya and the West, the teaching of English was banned from schools and universities across the country. Consequently, the status of teaching English in Libya deteriorated considerably for a almost a decade. In the mid-1990s, the negative consequences of this situation were becoming evident (e.g. university graduates had very limited grasp of English) and a key response by the Lib- yan government to this situation was the introduction, in 2000, of a new curriculum for English language teaching at secondary level.

8.1. The new English curriculum

The new English curriculum is embodied in a series of course books called English for Libya. Course books at different levels are structured in a similar way; each unit has sections dedicated to reading, vocabulary and grammar, functional use of language, listening, speaking and writing. The broader scope of this curriculum was an obvious departure from its predecessor, where functional language use, listening and speaking ha not been addressed. It is, though, in its methodology that the new curriculum departed most radically from its predecessor. The new curriculum is organized around activities based on communicative principles (for a discussion of these, see, for example, Richards and Rodgers, 2001): reading work involves pre-reading, while reading and post reading activities; a discovery approach to grammar is recommended, while the course book includes activities which promote meaningful and purposeful language use, receptive and productive, in oral and written contexts. The curriculum recommends that English be used as much as possible by the teacher and students in the classroom, as ”the aim is for the students to communicate effectively and fluently with each other and to make talking in English a regular activity” (Macfarlane, 2000, p. 3). Teachers are also advised to adopt a more tolerant attitude to errors. Another key characteristic of the new curriculum is that many of the activities are interactive, asking students to work in pairs; the thinking behind this is that ”it is a good opportunity for the students to speak the target language” (Macfarlane, 2000, p. 5).

Various strategies for implementing educational change are discussed in the literature (e.g. Fullan, 2001); that adopted in relation to the new English curriculum in Libya can be described as power-coercive; that is, teachers were not involved in the design of the innovation and their role was to implement the decisions about the curriculum made by the educational policy makers. The training provided to support teachers in implementing the new curriculum was also limited; they attended seminars lasting a week during which they were shown the new textbooks and given information about the curriculum. These sessions were led by ELT inspectors who themselves had been trained by the publishers of the course books.

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