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The price of diversity in Morocco

Abdellah Taibi
Mly Abdellah Taibi was a Fulbright FLTA, at the college of Saint Rose Albany, New York. He obtained a B.A in English Literature and P.B in Tourism, Management and communication. He is a social activist and president of the Moroccan association “Art, Youth ...
The price of diversity in Morocco

New York – Morocco is one of the countries that are known for its cultural and linguistic diversity.

In a country where tourism is a fundamental pillar of economy, this diversity is a credit added to the attractions to Morocco. However, this linguistic diversity has heavily affected one of the most important variables of socio-economic development: education. In the recent classification of educational systems around the world, Morocco ranked at the bottom of Arab countries and was knocked out even by countries with the poorest economic and social conditions.

Morocco has been making many amendments on the educational system, but still all this efforts proved fruitless. Since independence, Morocco has struggled to improve the educational system, starting by importing teachers from France and other countries waiting to train Moroccan teachers. By 1989 Morocco made a leap towards the Arabization of primary and secondary education. This shift is still considered, especially by those who witnessed the French system, as the beginning of the dramatic retreat of educational standards.

However, French is still considered a basic components of the educational system in Morocco since all scientific disciplines use this language as a teaching/learning vehicle. Between 1999/2009 the government introduced an important reform that had focused on education as a basic element of development. For any observer inside the field of education, it’s obviously seen that there is a tremendous effort to improve this field by increasing the number of staff and teachers, introducing technology to schools, facilitating conditions in rural areas, trying newest teaching methods..etc. Surprisingly, all these efforts led to insignificant outcomes.

As the government strives to find a remedy for this issue, many facts and details are ignored. Moroccan’s linguistic complexity is the key element to understand this perpetual failure of education policies. More than 50 percent of Moroccans speak Amazigh language as their mother tongue and the rest speak Darija, an Arabic dialect, while education utilizes classical Arabic as a language for teaching and learning. This incompatibility leads to a shortage in performance of students. It’s clearly unfair to compare the performance of an Amazigh child in Morocco with an Arab chil basing on tests introduced in Arabic language. The Amazigh child has to make double efforts: decipher the language first, and then understand the content, whereas the Arab is only required to understand the content.

This same issue has been raised in the USA some years ago after the disproportionate representation of Hispanic and Afro-American children in special education. It’s found that the majority of children who are considered mentally disabled and condemned to special education are Latinos and African Americans. The unfairness lies in the fact that for classification, IQ tests “intelligence quotient tests” are given to students in English while Latinos mother tongue is Spanish. Concerning African Americans, the problem doesn’t lie in language but the absence of any consideration of their socio-economic status. Both socio-economically and linguistically speaking, the Euro-American children are clearly favored. To make these IQ tests credible, the USA started to consider mother tongue as crucial element of determining a child’s cognitive competencies.

Hispanic student are lucky to be saved from a disability judgment. Though it does not require experts to spot this obstacle, Amazigh children in Morocco still suffer from inequity. Personally, I had a traumatizing experience related to this. When I was in the 2nd grade, my teacher was classifying me as the top of my class in a school where all students were Amazighophone. In the middle of the year, a neighbor school sent a group of Arabophone students to study with us as they have a problem in their school. I remember, the teacher did not care about me anymore, since he had some students with whom he could communicate easily in Arabic. As a result, all other Amazigh kids in that class, including myself felt left out of the game. We were just watching conversations in a foreign language and we were technically considered disabled.

Anybody can admit that solving this issue is not an easy task at all, though it’s theoretically feasible. Banning Amazigh language from our culture was one of the suggestions. This is an impossible theory even though there were many unsuccessful tries along history to uproot, intentionally or unintentionally, this language and culture. After the Islamic conquest around the 7th century, the Arabic language became the prestigious language in Morocco,while the Amazigh language was restricted and was gradually losing its richness due to a heavy borrowing from Arabic. At a certain point, this language became next to primitive because it was mainly preserved by people of mountains, especially, who didn’t have a significant contact with the Arab culture.

In modern Morocco and up to what is known as “the speech of Agadir” in 2001, the use of Amazigh was not allowed. In 2001, king Mohamed VI recognized Amazigh language as a component of the Moroccan Identity. This recognition was supported by the establishment of IRCAM, The Royal Institute of the Amazigh Culture to foster and promote the presence of this language.

The other suggestion is teaching in Amazigh areas should use Amazigh language as a vehicle of knowledge. Although this goal seems difficult, since it requires time, financial resources and a serious policy, it is not impossible to achieve. However, many people will not agree with this idea because it will split Morocco in two.

After passing through all the obstacles from primary to secondary school, Amazighophone students are joined by their Arabophone peers for new stage of struggling at the post-secondary education. Given that French is the language in which many scientific disciplines are being taught, students are required to convert all the thirteen years of studies in Arabic to French.

At the university level, students, mainly in scientific disciplines, need to adapt to the new requirements by mastering French. Through all this process, one can observe that we spend much of our school lives shifting from one language to another, while other developed countries use their mother tongue from cradle to grave. This is one of the reasons that cause Morocco’s educational system to rank at the bottom worldwide. For our country to move forward and put an end to this anomalies, a comprehensive overhaul of our educational system is needed.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

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Comments (3)

  • Tom Ledford

    Linguistic diversity is more of a problem than a strength. Look into the case of Quebec in Canada to see what mischief can result from linguistic diversity. Historically it seems to lead either to extinction of the minority language or partition of the country into separate language zones. French is disappearing in Louisiana, despite efforts by Francophones to revive it. Eventually I think it will come down to each country making its own national decision about what will be its official language.

  • RKWeiner

    All of the Amazigh dialects are beautiful, and serve to represent a people, a culture, and a unique history. I hope the current government does more to integrate it into modern Moroccan society.

    As a counterfactual to Tom’s comment, I’d like to promote the case of Singapore. They have a more than 96% literacy rate (, even though mother-tongue languages are very diverse, including Malay, Mandarin, Hindi, English, Tamil, and others (

    They manage to achieve this literacy rate amongst diverse populations while instructing mainly in English. Despite that, they do offer mother tongue classes, AND higher education in mother tongue.

    This suggests that a country CAN be linguistically diverse, AND literate, AND fair to minority cultures.

  • sara keen

    I refer to the statement that amazigh should be used in amazigh areas as impractical and impossible because the fact is that french is needed for engineering, medicine and information technology. Also it is a fact this is not what the people of amazigh want. All these people want is that their language and culture be recognised into be taken care of by providing them equal access to services and employment. How will using the amazigh language as a tool for instuction give them any help. It will only serve to disadvantage them even more. Also this is not a solution in teaching arabic language, rather teachers need to be trained in more effective techniques in teaching languages. Also adjustments need to be made to the curriculum taking into consideration the non- arab population although what happened in america cannot be compared with the situation in north africa. University research suggests that young children are able to acquire up to six languages. Also their are many non english speaking people whom migrated to english speaking countries as children and sure enough, they struggled for the first year or so but after that were fine. In fact many acquired higher educational qualifications than the native people. The fact is that children dont have a problem with languages, especially in this era of computers and internet which can be used to facilitate the aquisition of languages. The only problem lies with the outdated teaching methods that are widely used in morocco in addition bad behaviour of teachers towards students and a severe lack of resources especially in the rural areas which add up to a very negative experience. Its little wonder why many drop out by the age of 13 or 14. In addition to this, I find it very strange that the author didnt highlight the difficulties in learning french language by most moroccans. This is the foreign language morocco and the language many moroccan forget after leaving school simply because of lack of usage. I believe the french curriculum also needs to be adjusted to the level and type which is required to study the sciences and for business purposes. Why should moroccans need to study high level french literature. It is not the culture and language of moroccans. Rather moroccans should only have to study what is necessary for them to complete their studies. Also science should be taught in french from at least grade 7. Arabic subjects should be arabic, islamic studies, social sciences, history and geography. Amazigh can be a separate subject and can be made optional after grade 8 or 9. This would take pressure of students who didnt wish to study it. English could be introduced in grade 7. I stress that improvements need to be made in language teaching techniques. Also revision needs to be made to the other areas of curriculim so that students will not be overloaded.

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