Teaching of colloquial Arabic divides Moroccans
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.