Before the 1999 reform, there were two separated systems of education in Mauritania:
In each branch only a few hours were spent in the other language and the rest of the courses were taught in full Arabic or in full French. This system of education lasted for twenty years from 1979 to 1989. The majority of Moors, especially in the countryside, used to follow the Arabic Branch while the Puulars, Soninkés, and Woloffs registered mainly in the Bilingual Branch.
The existence of these two systems of education was the main source of friction between the different communities of the nation, as they used to grow apart one from the others. In addition, despite the efforts of the government who used to invest a great part of his budget in public schools (one fourth in 1998), the education standards were falling drastically year by year. Reports of 1998 show that only 30% of the students pass the examination of the BAC. Wealthy families were obliged to send their children to private schools where a different system was applied to avoid low education standards..
On April 1999, the government of Mauritania decided to remedy this situation by reforming the old educational system. The new reform establishes, for all citizens of Mauritania, one single and efficient system of education. Its main objective is to help them acquire the necessary tools to face the new challenges of the third millennium with due respect to their cultural and religious standards. To achieve this goal, the reformers departed from full Arabization at the primary school and introduced French at the second year of the primary school and English at the first year of the high school. Besides, the scientific subjects like math, natural sciences and computer are all taught in French for all the schooling period. In addition, more efforts are exerted to promote the local languages through the establishment of a research department at the university level.
The 1999 reforms have brought the following changes in the education system:
All classes at the first year of the Primary School will be taught in Arabic. French is introduced at the beginning of the second year of the Primary Schools
The establishment of one single system of education for all Mauritanians
Creation of professional training centers in each region according to its economic vocation
Addition of one more year at the first cycle of the secondary schools. Students will now spend 7 years of courses at the Secondary school before passing the Baccalaureat
English is introduced at the first year of the secondary school
Scientific courses like Math, Natural Sciences, Computers will be taught only in French for all
Computer Sciences are taught at the fourth year of the Secondary School.
II/ Description of the Education System
Almost all Mauritanians, regardless of sex or ethnic group, attend Koranic school from the age of 4 to 6 and gain at least rudimentary skills in reading and writing Arabic in addition to memorizing Koranic verses.
Primary school covers 6 years from the age of six to twelve. All classes are taught in Arabic during the first year schooling and French is used to teach arithmetic, natural sciences, and French at the beginning of the second year.
Pupils proceed to secondary education with an entrance examination organized throughout the country by the Ministry of Education. They take the examination in 7 subjects ( 4 in Arabic and 3 in French), to be awarded the Certificat d'Etudes Primaires Elémentaires (CEPE).
Secondary education is divided into two stages: the First Cycle called "College" (4 years) and the Second Cycle named "Lycée" (3 years). Secondary Education covers a total of 7 years. It was 6 years before the 1999 reform.
College: English is introduced at the first year of College. Physics is taught at the 3rd year and Computer Science at the 4th year. Pupils pursue the scientific subjects like Math, Natural sciences, physics and Computer science in French and the literary ones like History and Geography, Religious Studies, and Civics in Arabic.
Pupils who obtain a satisfactory report from the College can enter the Lycée without taking the national examination at the completion of the four-year courses. Those who chose to take the examination are awarded the "Brevet d'Etudes du Premier Cycle" (BEPC).
The "Lycée" is three years long and pupils are directed, according to their capacity, to four specialized sections commonly called "Series":
Serie LO for "Lettres Originelles". A strong grasp in the Arabic language is required to succeed in this section as the main courses (Islamic Studies, Philosophy, Legislation, History and Geography) are taught in this language. Pupils who graduated from this section can pursue their studies at ISERI to become "Qady", legislator in Islamic Laws, or professor in Islamic studies at the "Lycée" and "College"
The final year of the Lycée is known as the "Classe Terminale" which is the year of preparation for the examination of the Baccalaureat.
After getting the "Diplome du Baccalauréat de l'Enseignement du Secondaire" (BAC), pupils wishing to pursue studies in the technical schools can take the entrance examination to join the "College Technique". This is the short cycle of technical studies leading to the "Brevet d'Enseignement Professionel" (BEP) after two years.
After the BEP, an additional two years at the "Lycée Technique" is required to obtain the "Brevet de Technicien". The holder of this diploma can join the "Centre Supérieur d'Enseignement Technique" (CSET) after an entrance examination to get the "Brevet de Technicien Supérieur" (BTS) which is considered as a university diploma.
Universities and other Institutions of Higher Education
The university of Nouakchott is divided into three "facultés": "Faculté des Lettres et Sciences Humaines", "Faculté des Sciences Economiques et Juridiques", "Faculté des Sciences et Techniques". The BAC is required to register to one of these "Facultés". Students spend two years to finish the First Cycle of university studies by obtaining the "Diplome du Premier Cycle d'Etudes Universitaires" also called "DEUG". An additional two years at the Second Cycle offers the opportunity to obtain the diploma of "Maitrise" after writing and presenting before a jury a final dissertation called "Memoire".
There are other specialized institutions of higher education besides the traditional curriculum at the University of Nouakchott:
Ecole Nationale d'Administration (ENA)
Ecole Nationale d'Institutueurs (ENI)
Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS)
Institut Scientifique des Etudes et Recherches Islamiques (ISERI)
Ecole Nationale de Santé Publique (ENSP)
Institut Supérieur de Specialisation Médicale (ISSM)
Centre Supérieur d'Enseignement Technique (CSET)
They trained Baccalaureate holders to become teachers at the Primary schools, Professors of "College" or "Lycée", administrators in public services, medical doctors or health