Morocco gives up 30-year drive to ‘Arabise’ education

Friday 11/03/2016
Schoolchildren listen to a teacher as they study during a class in the Oudaya primary school in Rabat, at the start of the new school year in Morocco.

Casablanca - Morocco has decided to return to teaching three major school subjects in French, starting in the first grade rather than the third at state schools, ending three decades of an experiment in “Arabisation”.
The decision to return to French was announced in February by Mo­roccan King Mohammed VI during a cabinet meeting following a pro­posal by Education Minister Rachid Belmokhtar.
Belmokhtar’s plan marked the end of the Arabisation policy launched 30 years ago. Mathemat­ics, natural sciences and physics are to be taught in French and public primary schools will be put on an equal footing with private schools in teaching French.
Belmokhtar’s proposal had been strongly criticised by Arabic lan­guage supports, including Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane and his Justice and Development Party (PJD).
The push for French is a major blow to supporters of the Moroccan dialect (darija), who claim it can easily substitute for classical Arabic in education because it is widely used, including in parliament.
In the early 1980s, the govern­ment led by the Independence Party decided to “Arabise” public education with the implicit bless­ing of late King Hassan II in a bid to strengthen conservatives and Islamists at the expense of the left­ists.
Retired French teacher Ahmed Rissouli said the new require­ments come after three decades of a “failed” education system.
“Teaching French from the first grade is better for schoolchildren, who will love it more and progress much faster,” said Rissouli. “Stu­dents who study scientific subjects in Arabic find themselves with a great dilemma in higher education where the same subjects are taught in French.”
A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and De­velopment (OECD), titled Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain, revealed that Morocco ranks 73rd in basic academic skills. The analysis was based on test scores of 15-year-old students in mathemat­ics and science in 76 developed and developing countries.
The ranking reflects Morocco’s degrading educational system de­spite the king’s call in 2013 for im­provement.
“The situation of the educational sector requires a halt for an impar­tial test of conscience which will al­low the evaluation of achievements and identification of weaknesses and dysfunctions,” King Moham­med VI said during a speech in Au­gust 2013.
Private education in Morocco is growing at the expense of public schools. The percentage of stu­dents enrolled in private schools increased from 9% in 2009 to 15% in 2015, according to Global Initia­tive for Economic, Social and Cul­tural Rights, a research centre on inequalities in access to education.
A report published in April 2015 by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights warned that uncontrolled growth of private education in Morocco “generates discrimination in education and is a source of human rights violations”.
The challenge is sociological since the Arabisation of education created a social divide.
“Morocco will earn a great deal behind this reform as students will boost their skills and master the language of Molière,” said Rissouli.
The reform, which also introduc­es English in the fourth grade, sig­nals that Morocco is leaning more to the West at the time of the rise of Islamism in the MENA region.
“For the reform to succeed, the necessary means, especially the human resources, infrastructures and the latest teaching technolo­gies, are required to achieve the vi­sion’s goals,” said Rissouli.