Introduction of dialect in school textbooks divides Moroccans

The ministry said the passages concerned only eight words in Darija on the 150 pages of a manual that contains 8,000 words.
Sunday 16/09/2018
Students attend an Arabic class at a school in Rabat. (AFP)
Thorny debate. Students attend an Arabic class at a school in Rabat. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - The introduction of dialectal words in primary school textbooks drew strong reactions in Morocco, whose educational system has been subject to severe criticism despite reforms to overhaul it.

Moroccans expressed dismay about the Education Ministry’s decision to include dialectal words in the school textbooks, which has long been a thorny debate between Darija — Moroccan dialect — and Arabic camps.

“The intrusion of Darija was not discussed. We were forced to see it thereafter. What is shocking is the freedom our pseudo-leaders take to play with the future of an entire nation without bothering to consult the real people concerned. We believe that we are taken for sheep,” said Zineb Ben on Facebook.

“If no Moroccan child does not know what the word ‘baghrir’ (pancake) means, then why find it in their textbook? What is the added value? If it had been a textbook for the students of the mission (foreign school), we would have understood. But what did they finally think?” she asked.

Hassan Ben Gholam echoed her opinion, saying “baghrir” was a false track to divert public opinion from the real problems of education.

The Economic, Social and Environmental Council a year ago published a report exposing structural deficiencies in Morocco’s public education system.

“The phenomenon of overcrowded classes within schools, both in primary and secondary levels, is worsening,” said the report, warning that conditions were hindering learning and academic achievement.

Some conservatives argue that Darija will be used to combat the language of the Quran.

“The main goal of those who call for teaching Moroccan dialect is to fight the Quran by undermining the Arabic language but it will not come to them because the Moroccans adhere to their religion and Arabic language and this is the reality,” Chaid Al Arabi posted on Twitter.

Anti-Darija campaigners called for the dismissal of Noureddine Ayouch from the Standing Committee on Curricula, Programmes, Training and Didactic Tools of the Higher Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research.

Ayouch, who has been a fervent defender of introducing Darija in the educational system, insists that its use will facilitate learning and will not affect the Arabic language.

Salafist preacher Sheikh El Fizazi called Ayouch “ignorant,” and accused him of working on behalf of a foreign lobby that encourages, supports and funds “this calamitous option with dramatic outcomes.”

The introduction of some Darija in the textbooks was carried out by the Education Ministry, which has been battling a “fake” social campaign it said was misleading Moroccans.

“A number of images and information on new primary education textbooks published this year are being disseminated on social media. We note, following the review of these online publications, that a number of these images and pages were fabricated from scratch and have no connection with new Moroccan textbooks but textbooks from other countries,” the Education Ministry said on its Facebook account.

The ministry said the passages concerned only eight words in Darija on the 150 pages of a manual that contains 8,000 words.

“The words in question have no translation in Arabic language and some are pronounced in the same way in all languages, such as ‘caftan’ and ‘djellaba,’ for example,” argued the ministry.

Mourad Alami, a professor at Mohamed V University in Rabat whose doctorate is in linguistics and speech analysis, said experts at the Education Ministry were inspired by the Moroccan reality, while introducing some words in Moroccan language to reconcile children with their 1,000-year-old culture.

“All developed nations, small and large, have made considerable progress because they have been able to maximise the use of almost all of their human resources, while providing courses in the mother tongue and in the language that everyone understands,” Alami wrote in an opinion article on Huffington Post Maghreb.