MSU is working to train current and future educators in a subject that's becoming increasingly more important to students in Michigan — teaching Arabic.
The university will begin offering a new online master's certification program for Arabic in the fall, and an Arabic major, that began in 2009, now allows undergraduate students the chance to have their Arabic major joined with teacher certification, said Jeff Bale, assistant professor of second language education.
Bale said many K-12 public schools in Michigan are concerned with keeping Arabic students in touch with their culture and the language.
"Historically, southeast Michigan has been one of the main gateways of immigration for the Middle East for the past 100 years," he said. "This is an opportunity to support local schools."
Higher education enrollments in Arabic have exploded in the past decade, Bale said. A survey by the Modern Language Association of America released in December 2010 found the number of undergraduate students studying Arabic increased by 46 percent from 2006 to 2009.
Still, Bale said Arabic typically is not one of the main languages offered in the K-12 setting.
"Interest in the language has gone up dramatically, but the capacity to teach it has not," he said. "We have to start somewhere … with getting people qualified."
Former MSU student Mark Joseph graduated in December 2010 with an Arabic minor. Joseph said he is Lebanese, but his family had lost the tradition of speaking Arabic over generations.
"I definitely think there's a demand for it," Joseph said.
Accounting sophomore Andrew Dakki also is minoring in Arabic as part of the Arabic Language Instruction Flagship program on campus. Both of his parents are from Iraq, so he knew some of the language going into the program, but not anything formal.
"I think knowing another language opens up some doors," Dakki said.
Wafa Hassan, outreach coordinator for the Arabic Flagship program, said many K-12 schools in the state are trying to start Arabic programs, but are faced with a lack of certified teachers. After teaching a weekend Arabic workshop for teachers in Detroit last weekend, she announced a master's program likely would open up at MSU soon. Out of 24 teachers in the class, she already has had nine of them send her e-mails showing their interest, she said.
"Having an initiative like this one will really be kind of a breakthrough," Hassan said. "So many teachers are looking to be certified."
Hassan said Arabic is one of the most sought-after languages by employers and many students studying Arabic at MSU have job offers before they graduate. At least 30 students are majoring in Arabic now, she said.
There also is an increasing amount of public schools beginning to teach Arabic in the state and the new program will help to create more qualified teachers in the subject, Hassan said.
"Many families are removing their students from the schools that don't teach Arabic to ones that do," she said.