The project is one of eight initiated by the British Council, which was spurred by its research that rated Arabic as the second most important language for workers of the future (Spanish was rated the most important).
The study took into account Britain’s export links, government trade priorities, diplomatic and security priorities and the most popular holiday destinations.
“There are more than 300 million Arabic speakers across the world – in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Faraan Sayed, who has been working on the programme for the British Council.
In eight clusters of schools around the country 1,000 pupils study Arabic as part of the curriculum while a further 500 are learning the subject in lunchtime and after-school clubs. These are in Belfast, Sheffield, Manchester, London (where there are two), Barnstaple in Devon, Blackburn and Bradford.
In Manchester, the independent Manchester Grammar School asked some of its Syrian pupils to help with the recruitment of an Arabic teacher. They recruited an Iraqi-born teacher with the result that the school’s development plan now has Arabic GCSE provision planned from 2016.
The drive to teach Arabic will be stepped up when the British Council sends out a “language and culture” pack to around 5,000 primary schools in September, in an attempt to persuade them to take up the subject – and give their pupils an insight into the culture of the Arabic world.
One of the problems in the future may be the lack of opportunity for the pupils to continue their studies at secondary school, as there are few that offer Arabic.
Top ten tongues
The top 10 languages for the future, according to a British Council report, are predicted as being: 1 Spanish, 2 Arabic, 3 French, 4 Mandarin Chinese, 5 German, 6 Portuguese, 7 Italian, 8 Russian, 9 Turkish, 10 Japanese.
French has consistently dominated the language scene in UK schools, showing the greatest take-up at GCSE and A level. The biggest loser after Labour’s decision in 2004 to remove languages as compulsory for 14 to 16-year-olds, was German, which was in second place in the nation’s schools up until 2006, when it was overtaken by Spanish. Spanish is now offered at degree level by more than 70 universities – compared with 60 offering German.
The spotlight was thrown on Mandarin as the language of the future in 2010, when the schools secretary, Ed Balls, said that he wanted at least one school in every area to offer it as a subject at secondary level.
Meanwhile Arabic has risen steadily in popularity, with GCSE take-up increasing by 82 per cent between 2002 and 2012.
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