Teaching of colloquial Arabic divides Moroccans

Friday 12/06/2015
Classical Arabic still dominates syllabus

CASABLANCA - A heated debate increas­ingly divides Moroccans over the introduction of the local dialect of Arabic – Darija – into school cur­riculums.
Moroccans speak Berber and Dari­ja, a colloquial form of Arabic that mixes French, Spanish, Berber and classical Arabic, and varies from one region to another.
Among staunch supporters of ed­ucation in Darija is advertising and communication magnate Noured­dine Ayouch, founder of the Zakou­ra Education Foundation.
Ayouch argues that teaching Dari­ja will help resolve the crisis of edu­cation as the dialect is spoken by the majority of Moroccans.
A report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and De­velopment (OECD) titled Universal Basic Skills: What Countries Stand to Gain revealed that Morocco is ranked 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 is a sign of Morocco’s deteriorating educational system despite Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s call almost two years ago for im­provement of the sector.
“The situation of the educational sector requires a halt for an impar­tial test of conscience that will al­low the evaluation of achievements and identification of weaknesses and dysfunctions,” the king said in a speech in August 2013.
Retired high school French teach­er Ahmed Rissouni, who is against the introduction of Darija in educa­tion, blames the government for the deteriorating educational system.
“The Moroccan government bears a huge responsibility for the situa­tion. It’s a deliberate policy aimed at pushing Moroccans to put their children in private schools in order to save money spent on education,” Rissouni told The Arab Weekly.
A report from a group of Moroccan non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in education denounced the closure of 191 primary and sec­ondary schools in the North African country between 2008 and 2013.
The report pointed out that other public schools are threatened with closure, reflecting the decline of the government’s commitment to a free-and-quality education for all.
In a bid to improve education standards, the Higher Council for Education, Training and Scientific Research submitted to the king its strategic vision through 2030. The report calls for making pre-school education compulsory and encour­aging the development of a non-profit qualified private education.
The report also recommends that Darija be taught at the first pre-school year. Darija supporters say the Moroccan dialect can easily sub­stitute for classical Arabic in educa­tion because it is being used every­where, including the parliament.
“Moroccans talk daily in Darija. It is the language of creation par ex­cellence whether it is oral or writ­ten. We tend to believe that Darija should only be used orally. This is not true. It can be also used in the production of novels and plays. To­day, Darija is widely developed in advertising, communication, thea­tre and cinema,” Ayouch told the Moroccan NGO Marocains Pluriels.
Many companies have used Darija in advertising to promote products and services to a wider audience, while Moroccans watch Turkish and South American TV programming dubbed into the Moroccan dialect.
Abderrahim Youssi, professor of linguistics at the University of Mo­hammed V, translated The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry into Darija in 2009 in a bid to “eradi­cate illiteracy” because, he argued, classical Arabic is a difficult lan­guage to learn and master.
Students from Ibn Sina second­ary school in Marrakech performed Antigone in Darija at Dar Attakafa- Daoudiat theatre. But staunch de­fenders of classical Arabic argue that teaching in Darija will destroy the language of the Quran and plunge education into the abyss.
“I am against Darija being taught at school,” said Ahmed Mansouri, director of studies at Jeanne d’Arc School in Casablanca. “Darija differs from one city to another and from one region to another. The question is which one will be used for teach­ing,” he said, citing the example of how “carrot” can have different names in the North African country.
“There are no grammar rules for Darija. Furthermore, it’s very dif­ficult to include Darija as a univer­sal language because it simply has no basis unlike the classical Arabic whose words have their equivalent in other languages,” said Mansouri.
“Teaching Darija at schools would be a costly roller coaster as we need to establish new guidelines and let­ters.”
Mansouri said he was against the recommendation of Darija being taught at the first pre-school year because it is against the country’s constitution, which stipulates that Arabic is the official language of Morocco. Nevertheless, Mansouri said that he would support a “clean” Darija, a version that is close to clas­sical Arabic, to be taught at the first two years of primary schools.
He said that Arabic was not the problem behind Morocco’s 73rd ranking in basic academic skills.
“The problem is complex and involves many parties, including teachers, politicians, curriculum setters and parents,” Mansouri said.
“School curricula are too heavy for students to handle,” said Man­souri.