September 17, 2017

Report highlights ‘structural deficiencies’ of Morocco’s public education system

Walking to an unknown future. Students heading to a public secondary school in Casablanca. (Saad Guerraoui)

Casablanca - “Expected,” “outra­geous” and “shock­ing.” These were the words used by Mo­roccans to describe a bleak report published by the Eco­nomic, Social and Environmental Council (ESEC) on education in the North African country.

The 2016 report, released just as the new school year began, out­lined structural deficiencies in Mo­rocco’s public education system and said they have become more acute.

“The phenomenon of over­crowded classes within schools, both in primary and secondary lev­els, is worsening,” said the report.

“This state of the situation is hindering learning and academic achievement and does not achieve the ultimate goal, namely of qual­ity education,” it added.

The council, headed by Nizar Baraka, highlighted the lack of trained teachers. Last year, a spike in retirements forced the govern­ment to recruit contracted staff as an emergency solution. This last-minute recruitment had a negative impact on the quality of education due to insufficient training, the re­port said.

“In advanced countries, the du­ration of teacher training varies from 3 and 6 years depending on the level of classes to be taught,” the ESEC said.

Columnist Majda El Krami, who has written often about education in Morocco for local publications, told The Arab Weekly that the lat­est ESEC report is quite realistic and effectively raises the problems and shortcomings of the Moroccan education system.

“The portrait drawn by Mr Baraka’s team unfortunately cor­responds to the reality of what public education has become — and is becoming — and proposes praiseworthy solutions but [ones that are] perhaps difficult to adopt in the near future,” said Krami.

The ESEC believes that the edu­cation system’s failings are very costly as the number of school dropouts, which it estimates at 350,000 per year, translates to a loss of almost 10% of the national education budget, a staggering 9 billion dirhams ($900 million) per year. This includes the costs of school dropouts and grade repeats.

Bouazza Bakir, a former French language inspector for public sec­ondary schools, said the report has some truth in it.

“One of the main problems in public education comes from teachers themselves,” Bakir said. “The majority of them lack moti­vation and seriousness.”

“Unfortunately, there is laxness among teachers in public educa­tion that needs to be tackled head on,” he added.

Mohamed Madad, a medical English teacher at the University of Casablanca’s Faculty of Medi­cine, disagreed.

“How could a teacher be mo­tivated in remote areas when he is teaching three classes in one, when the working conditions are not there?” asked Madad.

Krami warned of dire conse­quences if these problems are not dealt with efficiently.

The gap between public and private schools in major cities is growing. As mistrust of the public education system grows, private and foreign schools are expand­ing faster. Many middle-class and even working-class families are placing their children in private schools because they think they are left with no choice.

Saad Alami, a 49-year-old busi­nessman, said he can’t afford to jeopardise his 15-year-old daugh­ter’s future by putting her in a public school.

“There are many reasons that pushed me to opt for a French mission in Casablanca. The cur­riculum is rich, the quality reflects the high cost and the rate of suc­cess is guaranteed,” said Alami.

“In public schools, the classes are overcrowded, teachers do not give 100% of their efforts and their absenteeism rate is high be­sides the lack of modern technologies and li­braries that are vital to students’ learning process,” he added.

Mustafa, a hair­dresser in a popu­lar neighbourhood in the old medina, said he had to work harder to provide for his 13-year-old son’s education in a private school.

“Up to the 1980s, private educa­tion was for those who failed in public schools. Now the situation has turned upside down, and private education has become a money-making machine that is sucking many people’s blood,” said Mustafa.

On September 11, Mohamed Hassad, minister of national edu­cation, vocational training, higher education and scientific research, laid out a number of measures aimed at improving the public education system during the 2017- 2018 school year.

Among the measures were plans to increase the education workforce, reduce the number of students in classrooms and add French to the curriculum of first-year primary students.

Krami said Hassad has displayed a firm desire to change things around, but that the uncondition­al support of all actors in the edu­cation system would be required for the reforms to succeed.

“This total involvement will not happen overnight and will re­quire a lot of work, sacrifices and concessions,” she said. “The chal­lenge today is to take it all back to square one and propose effective solutions that are more in tune with the reality of Morocco.”